Placer gold from the Devils Nest deposits at Rich Hill, Arizona, USA, was studied using a range of micro-analytical and microbiological techniques to assess if differences in (paleo)-environmental conditions of three stratigraphically-adjacent placer units are recorded by the gold particles themselves. High-angle basin and range faulting at 5–17 Ma produced a shallow basin that preserved three placer units. The stratigraphically-oldest unit is thin gold-rich gravel within bedrock gravity traps, hosting elongated and flattened placer gold particles coated with manganese-, iron-, barium- (Mn-Fe-Ba) oxide crusts. These crusts host abundant nano-particulate and microcrystalline secondary gold, as well as thick biomats. Gold surfaces display unusual plumate-dendritic structures of putative secondary gold. A new micro-aerophilic Betaproteobacterium, identified as a strain of Comamonas testosteroni
, was isolated from these biomats. Significantly, this ‘black’ placer gold is the radiogenically youngest of the gold from the three placer units. The middle unit has well-rounded gold nuggets with deep chemical weathering rims, which likely recorded chemical weathering during a wetter period in Arizona’s history. Biomats, nano-particulate gold and secondary gold growths were not observed here. The uppermost unit is a pulse placer deposited by debris flows during a recent drier period. Deep cracks and pits in the rough and angular gold from this unit host biomats and nano-particulate gold. During this late arid period, and continuing to the present, microbial communities established within the wet, oxygen-poor bedrock traps of the lowermost placer unit, which resulted in biological modification of placer gold chemistry, and production of Mn-Fe-Ba oxide biomats, which have coated and cemented both gold and sediments. Similarly, deep cracks and pits in gold from the uppermost unit provided a moist and sheltered micro-environment for additional gold-tolerant biological communities. In conclusion, placer gold from the Devils Nest deposits at Rich Hill, Arizona, USA, preserves a detailed record of physical, chemical and biological modifications.
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