Platinum is one of the rarest metals on the earth, but that doesn’t stop countless prospectors from looking for it in some of the most common places. Sand, clay, and gravel are popular platinum prospecting sediments, but is it actually possible to find platinum in gravel?
It’s possible to get platinum from gravel because both materials can form far below the surface. Volcanic systems, underground rivers, and tectonic plate movements can bring gravel and platinum through the earth’s crust. Gravel is often dense enough to prevent platinum from sliding through.
Throughout this post, I’ll explain how you can find platinum in gravel, what type of gravel is more likely to have platinum, and how to know if you found platinum.
The Right Type of Gravel
Granite gravel is most likely to have platinum because both materials form at the same distance below the earth’s crust. As tectonic plates shift, granite breaks apart and forms gravel. At the same time, platinum grains and nuggets get forced to the surface.
The American Museum of Natural History states that granite forms into large crystals from the heat and pressure of magma. Platinum also requires immense amounts of heat and pressure. Not so coincidentally, both of these materials form near volcanic systems. Thus, they’re forced to the surface in the same areas and through the same methods.
Keep in mind that gravel is just crushed rocks. Any rocks and minerals that form near platinum (or under the same conditions) can harbor small amounts of the precious metal. You can also find platinum near other precious metals, including gold, gold, silver, and platinum-group metals (i.e, palladium, iridium, etc.).
However, platinum is one of the rarest metals to locate, so don’t be disheartened if you can’t find any grains near gravel. For more information, check out my article about why platinum is so rare in nature. Is Platinum a Hard Metal to Find? What You Need To Know
Can Platinum Be Extracted From Roadside Gravel?
Platinum can be extracted from roadside gravel because many vehicles have platinum and platinum-group metals in some of their parts. As these parts slowly break apart, small bits of platinum coat the roadside. This process is slow, but it could yield tiny amounts of platinum for lucky prospectors.
Here’s what you should know about extracting platinum from roadside gravel:
- Dry panning is the best process for obtaining platinum from roadside gravel. You don’t need water, sluices, and other materials. Some people use handheld brooms or a pick to remove and collect dust, pouring it into a bucket. However, a pan is the only requirement. Scoop the gravel into a pan, shake it, tilt it, and push the dust off the top.
- It’s not always legal to look for platinum and other materials by the roadside. Make sure you know the local legalities of panning and prospecting near the side of the road. Keep in mind that not all roadways are public roads. Panning or prospecting on private land is often illegal if you don’t own it.
- Safety precautions are more than necessary, especially near busy highways. Keep an eye out for oncoming traffic, and don’t forget to wear a bright orange or a bright yellow vest to let people know where you are. Avoid trying this method at night or when the sun is shining in the eyes of nearby drivers.
- According to Popular Mechanics, the platinum obtained with this method is often dust rather than grains or nuggets. This happens because vehicle parts overheat and degrade. You’re not going to find a nugget of platinum popping off of a car. However, you could collect enough dust to be worth quite a bit of money.
- There’s no exact science for extracting platinum from roadside gravel. It didn’t arrive through tectonic plate shifting, nor did it show up from volcanic activity. You’ll have to hope for the best and choose roads that have a lot of traffic with older vehicles that use platinum-group metals.
This method is growing in popularity because it has a higher chance of yielding platinum than most locations. However, it can be very dangerous, not to mention the extremely small likelihood that you get enough platinum to make a decent income. It’s a fun hobby, but it won’t replace traditional prospecting any time soon.
Tips for Platinum Prospecting
To get platinum from gravel, you have to choose between dry panning, sluicing, or dredging. Pan through wet gravel until the heavier portions of metal are left behind, then use prospecting tweezers to remove the platinum grains and nuggets. You can also use a metal detector to locate platinum in gravel.
Follow these tips to get platinum from gravel easier:
- Sluicing and dry panning are the best prospecting methods for this scenario. If you have a water source, you can sluice or pan for platinum; otherwise, you’ll have to dry pan. Remember to shake, tap, and rotate the pan to ensure that all of the heavy platinum pieces sink to the bottom of the pan or cup.
- Look for trace amounts of heavy platinum left behind. Platinum is much heavier than most materials, including gold. It quickly drops below the roadside gravel and dirt, so you’ll be able to find it near the bottom. It’ll shine much brighter than any kind of gravel. Shine a like on it and look for brightness and reflections from the platinum.
- Remove the platinum from the gravel with tweezers or use aqua regia to dissolve the surrounding materials. Aqua regia can melt platinum, but it takes a very long time. On the other hand, it’ll burn through most other materials much quicker. If everything melts and the shiny white-silver material doesn’t, you likely have platinum on your hands.
- Consider using a metal detector or a small magnet to pull pieces of platinum from the gravel. Platinum reacts to magnets more than gravel, so this is an easy technique to know what you’re dealing with. Some handheld metal detectors also use density tools to let you know how dense the metal is, bringing you one step closer to platinum identification.
Getting platinum from gravel can be as simple as using a prospecting pan and practicing patience. While suction dredges are incredibly effective, they’re not permitted in all locations.
Additionally, suction dredges don’t always collect small bits of platinum dust, which is very common in gravel that’s near roadways. This isn’t as much of an issue for riverside gravel, though.
Testing Your Finds
To know if you found platinum in gravel, look for a shiny white-silver substance. Platinum is typically much shinier than silver, not to mention its pearlescent tone. While platinum isn’t extremely metallic, it’ll register on a metal detector. You can also use a mineral density checker since platinum is quite dense.
So, how do you know if you found platinum? Review this checklist:
- Check if its appearance mirrors that of raw platinum. The first thing you should do is look to know if the material is silver-colored, bright, and shiny. Platinum is shinier than most metals, including silver and gold. It’s also much harder, so you won’t be able to warp it with your bare hands.
- The University of Waterloo explains that you can use aqua regia to dissolve surrounding materials since platinum is extremely acid-resistant. Pour a small amount of the chemical on the material. If it melts or corrodes right away, you haven’t found platinum. If it doesn’t change and everything else corrodes, you might have it!
- Test the metal’s density. Platinum Investment reports that platinum is 21.45 grams (0.76 oz) per cubic centimeter. Use a density checker tool to determine if the material is close to this density before assuming it’s platinum. Platinum is much denser than gravel, so you’ll quickly be able to see a difference.
- Try separating the material from the surrounding gravel with dry panning or traditional panning. Both methods let the platinum sink to the bottom of the pan. Remove the leftover dust and gravel by hand, then tap the edge until the platinum is revealed. You’ll likely need a magnifying glass to see it.
- Consider your location and the type of gravel you’re looking through. For instance, platinum is more likely to be found in granite gravel than limestone gravel. Limestone often forms much higher than granite and platinum, so it’s less likely to hold pieces of alluvial platinum. Additionally, it’s not dense enough to prevent metals from slipping through.
The odds of finding platinum anywhere are very slim. It’s best to assume you didn’t find platinum until you run through the aforementioned series of tests. Platinum is heat-resistant, so it won’t melt over a lighter. Use a lighter, a match, or a handheld torch to see if the material melts. If it doesn’t, you could be one step closer to identifying platinum in gravel.
Platinum is rare, but you can occasionally find it in various types of gravel. If you want to find platinum, look for gravel types that form below the surface. Remember, you might have to sift through the gravel since platinum can slip through the cracks if it’s not dense enough.