Complex gold deposits are generally characterised by variable geometries, strong structural controls on grade distribution and a high-nugget effect. The use of diamond drilling and fire assays in this environment often results in an understatement of grade. Bulk samples are likely to be the closest estimators of true grade, and may be required to evaluate geological/grade risk during resource estimation/feasibility studies. Any bulk sampling program requires appropriate planning and implementation. The planning stage should attempt to delimit the extent and nature of mineralisation; characterise mineralogy and metallurgical properties of the ore; and define bulk sample size and how it will be sampled/processed. The approach to sample processing will be governed by the results of metallurgical testing and geological knowledge. Careful design of sampling protocols must be undertaken through material characterisation, understanding of gold particle sizing and the application of Gy's Sampling Theory.
Sampling protocols that are designed to suit the mineralisation style will result in a reduction of the nugget effect and hence resource risk. The a priori need for all sampling programs is the effective characterisation of the mineralisation type(s) to support optimisation. This requires a program of sampling for sampling followed by holistic characterisation. At each end of the coarse-gold to fine-gold spectrum, the samplability of a deposit ranges from relatively simple for fine-grained disseminated gold particles, through to extremely difficult for coarse nuggety mineralisation. Many deposits contain a proportion of both particle size types. The proportion and size of coarse gold particles has a direct impact on the effectiveness of sampling, where coarser particles will require larger samples and more specialised protocols. The nature of mineralisation geology/mineralogy and associated gold particle sizing can only be determined by sampling to facilitate optimised protocols. Mineralogical studies, focusing on particle size, particle clustering and distribution in host minerals, are required as part of wider paragenetic and metallurgical investigations. This paper discusses the role of mineralogical studies in the characterisation of gold ores for sampling optimisation through a series of case studies.