Mountains, mystery & Gold

Justin Cochrane
Monthly Meeting
Tuesday, December 2, 2008 - 19:15

In February 2008, the Chinese Geological Survey Bureau (CGS) announced that five major gold mines were discovered in 2007 in the country. These include the copper-gold mine in Gandise of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Yangshan gold mine in southern Gansu Province, the Sizhuang gold mine in the Shandong Province, the Baolun gold mine in Hainan Province and the Dachang gold mine in the Qinghai Province.

Justin Cochrane will give a talk to ESSA  about his experiences, impressions as well as interactions with the local people when being based at and working at the Dachang gold mine in the Qinghai Province, western China. The mine is located on the Qinghai Plateau at approximately 4,200m elevation.The system of gold mineralization at Dachang is very large and the area has been the site of extensive gold placer working in streams over the past two centuries.

 The Qinghai Plateau have been inhabited by a succession of pastoral peoples over the past three millennia. These included Tibetans in the seventh century followed by an influx of Mongols after the 13th century under the famous Kublai Khan, who established administrations to govern parts of Qinghai. Most of modern day Qinghai was incorporated into the Chinese Empire in 1724. Qinghai was under the administration of the Ming and Qing dynasties until the Qing dynasty fell in 1911. After 1912 it was under the government of the Northern Warlords. On January 1, 1929, Qinghai Province formally became part of modern China under the Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-shek, and remains today a province of the People's Republic of China. The population of the Province of Qinghai today is a predominantly Chinese, with ethnic Muslim and Tibetan minorities 


Justin Cochrane studied at the university of Johannesburg and was 

always interested in the sciences. Originally he was going to get 

into the biological sciences and did an undergraduate degree in both 

Zoology and Geology. He followed that up with an Honours degree 

in aquatic health, after which he decided to pursue a more 

geological oriented career, so he did a Masters degree in geology.  

The choice to follow geology as a career opened many doors in 

terms of travel and when a friend he had studied with, asked him to 

come to China, it didn't take much convincing. 


Justin together with others was based in western China at an 

altitude of 4000m above sea level, with the closest town 250km 

away. In Justin's own words "Besides there being the obvious lack 

of oxygen the place possessed a certain stark beauty and I 

constantly had the sense of being on top of the world and at the 

same time somehow disconnected. Our only communication with 

the outside world was by satellite phone and email via satellite 

phone. When you are so isolated the strangest things make you 

realize how people value contact. On one occasion our phone bill for 

the camp was 10 000 Canadian dollars! Further, the geology in the 

area is dominated by sediment with an abundance of thrust faults 

which makes it possible to pan for gold in some of the small 

streams. We found that a thriving illegal trade is growing with many 

groups of people coming in with heavy machinery just digging out 

large areas of river in the beautiful landscape. Without any 

exaggeration China was both one of the most beautiful and at the 

same time desperate places I have ever had the privilege to spend 

time in". 







Wits Club