Petrographic studies, assay records, and laser ablation–inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometer (LA-ICP-MS) analyses of major sulfides suggest nearly all of the gold at the Ernest Henry Cu-Au deposit occurs in the form of native gold or electrum (95–65 wt.% Au); sylvanite and dissolved gold in cobaltite, chalcopyrite, and pyrite make only minor contributions. LA-ICP-MS analyses of the gold contents of chalcopyrite gave from 8 to 139 ppb (mean = 56 ppb), more than an order of magnitude lower than those experimentally determined in chalcopyrite in equilibrium with native gold at the estimated mineralization temperatures (350°–450°C). Gold content is more variable in pyrite (1–400 ppb, mean = 77 ppb) and highest in narrow growth zones of a subordinate type of complexly zoned pyrite wherein it is associated with elevated As, Ag, Sn, Sb, Te, and Bi. Deposition of gold-electrum was closely associated with, but preceded some of the chalcopyrite deposition, as indicated by microtextures and lower bulk Au: Cu ratios in late-stage chalcopyrite-rich veins. Gold grains have maximum dimensions from <1 to 50 micrometers, and are heterogeneously distributed with most occurring in microscale clusters. Fifty-five out of 76 grains recorded in polished sections are in contact with both chalcopyrite and pyrite, and many of the rest are in sites where such a relationship could exist in the third dimension. The dominant textural sites are intergrowths with chalcopyrite in microveinlets cutting pyrite, and on faces of pyrite grains in contact with chalcopyrite. Scanning electron microscopy, electron microprobe analysis, and proton induced X-ray emission studies show that pyrite associated with gold includes complexly zoned, weakly zoned, arsenian, and arsenic-poor types. The textures are compatible with the possibility that most gold was deposited electrochemically as native metal on pyrite surfaces. The textural distribution of gold has important metallurgical implications given that the ore processing circuits at Ernest Henry and most other sulfide copper mines are designed to exclude pyrite (and arsenic) from concentrates.

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