Gold Rush in Serra Pelada, Brazil 1980

Gold Rush in Serra Pelada, Brazil 1980

In 1979, a farmer in a remote region of Brazil, discovered a gold 6-gram nugget and hired a geologist to see if there was more. This event was the impetus for the largest race for gold in modern history.
Driven by the dream of getting rich quickly, tens of thousands of miners hurried here, as if the ants were swarming in a huge open-pit mine, which every day they dug deeper and deeper. In those days, photographers took some of the most fascinating photographs of workers who, under dangerous conditions, worked with insanity and chaos.
One of the most dizzyingly inducing photographs of the series features hundreds of workers climbing high stairs and a hellhole hole in a quarry. Later photographer Sebastiano Salgado said: “Every hair on my body stood on end. Pyramids and the history of mankind unfolded before me. It was as if I was at the dawn of time.”
During its peak, about 100,000 miners or garimpyros worked in the mine at Serra Pelada in terrible conditions, in which violence, death and prostitution flourished.The diggers gathered soil at the bottom of the quarry, filled it with bags weighing from 30 to 60 kilograms, and then carried heavy bags to a height of about 400 meters along wooden and rope ladders to the top of the quarry, its soil was sifted in search of gold. On average, employees were paid 20 cents for each bag, with a bonus if gold was found in its bag. Thousands of underage girls sold their charms for a few golden grains.

During this period, in the neighboring town where the workers lived, about 60-80 unsolved murders occurred every month.
Three months after the miners discovered a quarry, the Brazilian military conducted operations to prevent the exploitation of workers and the conflict between miners and owners. The government agreed to buy all the gold from the garimpeiros for 75 percent of the London Metal Exchange. Officially, about 45 tons of gold was mined here, but it is estimated that as many as 90 percent of the total gold found in Serra Pelad. It was secretly taken out.
The mining of gold here had to be abandoned when the pit turned out to be flooded with groundwater. Geological surveys believe that in Serra Pelada there can still be from 20 to 50 tons of gold buried under the muddy water of the lake, which has become the former quarry.

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  • Gold Rush in Serra Pelada, Brazil 1980

    Gold Rush in Serra Pelada, Brazil 1980

    Gold Rush in Serra Pelada, Brazil 1980

    Gold Rush in Serra Pelada, Brazil 1980

    Gold Rush in Serra Pelada, Brazil 1980

    Gold Rush in Serra Pelada, Brazil 1980

    Gold Rush in Serra Pelada, Brazil 1980

    Gold Rush in Serra Pelada, Brazil 1980

    Gold Rush in Serra Pelada, Brazil 1980

    Gold Rush in Serra Pelada, Brazil 1980

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