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Friday, July 13, 2012

The Geology of Gulag Gold

Gold mining prisoners in the Kolyma Basin.  They are mining placer gold that is found throughout the area.

The Gulag Ore Field or more correctly the Ducat gold/silver deposit that is located in the central part of the Balygychan-Sugoi trough that is a graben shaped depression that is located near the town of Omsukchan, Kolyma that adjoins to its north the Okhotsk – Chukota a marginal continental volcanic belt.

The deposits of gold are centered on a Cretaceous (ca. 120 million year old) volcanic dome consisting of ultra-potassic rhyolites, ignimbrites and tuff that are interlayered with black argillites.  The whole volcanic complex is intruded at depth by a late Cretaceous (ca. 85 million year old) granite that is from 1,200 – 1,300 meters below the surface.

More gold miners at work in the Kolyma Basin

There were pulses of igneous activity that caused hydrothermal activity to occur in the dome that involved large quantities of fractured, porous and highly permeable Cretaceous rhyolite sills and other steeply dipping subvolcanic bodies to be affected covering an area that covered more then 25 square kilometers.

Most of the known mineralization was later to the younger intrusion that includes tin bearing greisen-type that occurs in the contact zones of the granitic plutons. They ore deposits himself were located at a considerable distance from the granite.

Part of the Kolyma Basin is within the Arctic Circle giving it a sub-Arctic climate having very cold winters that can last for up to six months. Most of the area is covered with permafrost and tundra. During the winter temperatures range from -19°C to -38°C with even lower temperatures found in the interior. Besides gold there are also rich reserves of silver, 10, tungsten, mercury, antimony, coal, oil and peat. It has been estimated that the area contains in addition to gold 1.2 billion tons of oil and one point 5,000,000,000 m³ of gas.

This is the area whose mineral wealth was discovered by Yuri Bilibin in the 1920s that was quickly developed into the infamous Gulag prison camps by Stalin in the 1930s. There was also the area Bilibin used as the model for his theory of Metallogeny and Global Tectonics that has gained much traction sense of the world of geology.

Development began in 1932 and of Joseph Stalin the Kolyma Basin became the most notorious place for the Gulag labor camps. It has been estimated that over 1 million people died en route to the area or in the Kolyma’s between from 1932 until 1954. It was Kolyma’s reputation that caused Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ferrite his famous book the Gulag Archipelago. In this book Solzhenitsyn came to characterize it as the “pole cold and cruelty.”

Gold and platinum were found in the Kolyma during the time when industrialization began in the USSR under Stalin’s First Five Year Plan in a period when the need for capital that would finance this economic development.  The Kolyma Basin gold was a perfect fit and development of the basin began in 1932 based on prisoner labor. 

In 1932 construction began on Kolyma Highway into the interior those that become known as the Road of Bones because of the number of people in Paris in its construction. This role eventually came to serve 80 different camps that were not have around the region of the uninhabited taiga. The first director of the Kolyma camps was Eduard Berzin who was the Cheka officer that was removed in 1937 and shot during the period of great purges of the USSR.

Far Eastern Russia geologically is North American plate that also includes Kamchatka Peninsula in northern Hokkaido Island of Japan. This being so it is probable that the gold deposits of this part of Siberia are closely related to those found in the Tintina gold belt of Alaska. It also indicates that most landmasses on Earth are really just one supercontinent with the sole exception being Antarctica.


  1. Hi there. Really enjoying your site. Great work! Tons of history and info.

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