Almost since James Marshall shouted “gold!” at Sutter’s Mill one fateful January day in 1848, the California Geological Survey (CGS) has tracked the state’s production of mineral commodities.
That’s a slight exaggeration: CGS’ first real work was done in the early 1850s. Still, the state survey compiled thousands upon thousands of pages of mineral production records from way back when up until 1976.
MINING THROUGH THE PAPERWORK
The thing is, all those old records are in an old format, paper. Finding out how much of a certain commodity — and California has produced a large variety — was produced in a certain county in a certain year could be as daunting as discovering a five-pound gold nugget.
The CGS Minerals Resources Program just digitized some of those printed records, making them available through the Department of Conservation website. The Historical Mineral Production in California database and dashboard is a pilot project for a multi-year effort to eventually digitize most of California’s historical mineral records.
CALIFORNIA PRODUCES MUCH MORE THAN JUST GOLD
The goal of the project isn’t just to create a modern database or preserve fragile records in the cloud, but also to chronicle the contribution of minerals to the state’s development. Gold may have drawn people to California, but commodities such as granite, borate, limestone, vermiculite, and even oyster shells also have helped create one of the world’s most robust economies.
The first iteration of the dashboard, which also links to a GIS version, provides a quick overview of California mineral production. It displays information culled from 1,700 pages of scanned records from 1958-1968 and representing all 58 California counties and the 55 commodities produced during that era.
“As it turns out, mining was pretty active in California between 1968 and 1968. The state produced asbestos, zinc, and everything in between.”Josh Goodwin, a senior engineering geologist in the CGS Mineral Resources Program.
Goodwin gave kudos to colleagues Rob Wurgler, Milton Fonseca, and Amy Tuzzolinothe trio that did the heavily lifting on the project.
Users can explore the dashboard and, if they want to view the complete records, request emailed copies via the simple-to-use and automated FileRequest Web Application, found just under the dashboard on the page. The historic records – some of which are hand-written – include mine names, the operator, the character of the mineral deposit, and method of mining utilized.
The pilot project was made possible by a $30,000 data preservation grant from the USGS. Ultimately, CGS hopes to add not only more years of records to the dashboard, but more detail about where in each county commodities have been found.
Gold is still mined in California, by the way, but it’s far from the most valuable commodity. Sand and gravel – not as alluring as gold but essential for all kinds of construction — are the top dogs of the state’s mining these days.