Studies of fresh carbonate host rocks and unoxidized gold ores of the Carlin mine indicate that gold, quartz, barite, pyrite, and other sulfides were introduced into the Roberts Mountains Formation by acid hydrothermal solutions. Laboratory investigations on the carbonaceous materials in the host rocks and ores and studies of reactions between carbonaceous materials and gold-bearing solutions show that the rocks contain: (1) An activated carbon component capable of adsorbing gold chloride or gold cyanide complexes from solution; (2) A mixture of high-molecular-weight hydrocarbons usually associated with the activated carbon components; and (3) An organic acid, similar to "humic acid," containing functional groups capable of interacting with gold complexes to form gold organic compounds. Although the exact structure of the gold organic compound(s) is not known, the most attractive possibility is chelation, where ligands such as N, S, or O in organic acids would easily displace the chloride ion from aurous chloride complexes and form stable gold chelates. Subsequent oxidation of the gold organic compounds destroys the organic component and leads to the formation of metallic gold. The relative amounts and types of carbonaceous materials are of principal importance in determining the chemical state and amount of gold deposited in carbonaceous limestone, although such factors as temperature, pH, and the oxidation state of the system are also involved.Although most of the gold ores at the Carlin mine are in the Silurian Roberts Mountains Formation and are at least several hundred feet stratigraphically below the Roberts Mountains thrust fault, disseminated replacement-type gold deposits could form in the lower-plate Devonian limestones (designated the Popovich Formation at the Carlin mine) and in carbonate and shale units of the upper-plate Ordovician Vinini Formation. In a structural setting that would provide satisfactory channels for movement of gold-bearing solutions, physical characteristics and chemical and mineralogical compositions, including the presence of organic materials, indicate that all three formations are favorable for replacement and deposition of gold.

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