The search for minerals that can generate money, that
are economically useful, is called prospecting. Valuable minerals are
recognized by their key characteristics. For example, gold is a heavy,
malleable, yellow metal; galena (lead ore) is dark gray, heavy, and
metallic; magnetite is black, heavy, and magnetic; diamond is clear and very
hard; and silver is bright grey color in color. Gold and silver were very
important in the settlement of the west in the 1800's. Easterners and
Europeans heard of the unbelievable wealth west of the Mississippi. Dreams
of instant wealth drove hundreds of thousands of people to the promised land
to prospect for minerals.
- Students have learned that minerals have certain characteristics.
Some of these are important for economic reasons. Ask students to list
the objects in their classroom that they think were derived from
minerals. Included on this list could be: the walls (sheet rock from
gypsum), pencil lead (graphite), watches (quartz), pipes (copper),
cement (calcite), and salt (halite). In addition, some objects, like the
black boards (slate or shale), chalk (limestone), and plastics are
obtained from rocks or oil.
- Using a map of the U.S., have students write a creative first person
essay or journal on the excitement of prospecting for gold. They are to
set the story in the East and write about traveling to California or
Nevada in search of gold or silver. Point out to students the many
obstacles like the Mississippi River, Sierra Nevada, rain, snow, and
even thieves had to be overcome by the prospectors.
- The students may have to research the history of the United States in
the 1800's to get a realistic look at the Gold Rush. You may want to use
the Internet to help find information. Useful sites include:
A general site created for the Gold Rush Sesquicentennial.
Women in the California Gold Rush
links related to a PBS documentary. Good material for student projects.
- If you are studying other historical eras you may want to see how
minerals may have affected these societies. For example, the
Mesopotamians (ancient Arabs) invented smelting and casting.
Later, around 3000 BC, bronze was developed by adding tin to copper.
Production of iron began around 500 BC.