Discovery of an antique gold mine in Belgium.


About 11 years ago, I started prospecting the Belgian creeks in the Ardennes with my friend Jean Detaille. I met him in 1987 at a mineral show in Liège and he accepted to teach me goldpanning. All these years, we went prospecting in all weathers always hoping to find something bigger.

We have had two gold rushes in Belgium. The first one took place about 2000 years ago and lasted for centuries and the second one began in 1875 and came to an end around 1920. Nowadays very nice gold can still be found in the creeks but the quantities have become so small that many give up rapidly. We only get what our ancestors left us and it is not much. A good day for us means a few hundred gold flakes of an average size of 0.8mm. Sometimes we have exceptional days wit more than a thousand flakes. Personally, my best day was 0.3 gr. Gold flakes are so hard to find that we don’t weigh the gold most of the time, we count it.  However, the gold has an extremely interesting morphology. It’s always very jagged with little quartz inclusions just like a mini-nugget.

During these 11 years we made a few lucky discoveries but truly nothing had prepared us to the discovery I’m going to tell you about.

Everything started 6 or 7 years ago. An historian from Liège, Lambert Grailet, asks me to explore a specific region in the Ardennes to prove the presence of gold. He has seen tailings and wants to use the results of my prospections to illustrate a book he is writing. He also mentions a hole named “le Trou des Massotais[1]” which according to the legend is concealing a gallery. Since it is a legend and that, at the time, I have more interest for the real gold, I neglect his invitation.

By the end of ’99 Lambert still has his own conviction and starts emptying the hole which is full of water. A journalist helps him and after a week of pumping with a tiny pump, they discover the entrance of a real gallery. I don’t more to be convinced and I start looking for the hole as well. Jean does the same but unfortunately we can’t find the correct location. Finally, in march 2000 we try once more and this time, after hours of walking in the country, we are able to locate the site. The hole is surrounded by tailings that clearly come from the ground. By chance we have goldpans with us and we start washing some dirt. At the first pan I can’t believe my eyes. There is a tiny little flake of gold, right at the bottom of the pan. Oh, it’s not big, only around 0.1mm, but it represents a unique discovery in Belgian history. For the first time, we are able to prove the existence of a real hard rock gold mine in Belgium. We find more in the following pans but the size remains very small. Jean and I are so happy that we literally dance around the hole. Although the discovery is small in size, even according to Belgian standards, it symbolises the achievement of a long quest. Everything a goldprospector can hope for has come true.

The next Saturday we go back on the spot hoping to find more; and more we found. The flakes are bigger in some places. The gold is extremely jagged. Clearly it hasn’t rolled at all. I even find a big flake of around 1cm sandwiched in its mother rock. The same night I contact Lambert Grailet to inform him of our discovery. Since a journalist was initially involved Lambert wants to be the first to write about it to be credited the discovery. But, overwhelmed by his enthusiasm, he launches a real media frenzy. Every Belgian TV or newspaper talks about the mine. The owner of the ground, shocked by this sudden gold fever prohibits all access to the site and hires extra ranchers to chase any intruder away. The University of Liège, Brussels and even the ministry of economical affairs get involved. The fever lasts a few weeks and then everything is forgotten. Jean and I regret a little that we talked so fast. It is now impossible to go back there. So for a few months we do as if we give up. But secretly I contact the university of Liège to organise an archaeological study of the site.

Around mid-October, Everything is forgotten and we obtain the authorisation to empty the hole again. Jean and I are filled with joy. We both feel that there is more there under. And we were right. The result will exceed our wildest dreams.

After two days of pumping with heavy material and a team of 10 people, we discover a real antique gallery still supported by wooden structures incredibly well preserved in the acid water. It looks as if the workers left the day before. The roof has partially collapsed but a 10 meter long section remains untouched. I even find a wooden shovel on the tailings at the end of the gallery. The wall shows chisel or pick marks. During our free time, Jean and I wash frenetically dirt to collect more gold flakes. It is unbelievable! Those two days were the best of our gold prospector life. In total, we were lucky enough to find more and bigger flakes than what we had ever seen.

Today, the specialists still study the findings which have generated many questions. How old is the mine? The youngest it can be is around 1750 and the oldest is 2000 years. How did the gold form and what is the extent of the deposit? Geologist are confronted to a puzzle. And so on. Scientist now take it over and try to find answers. But as far as we are concerned we are happy enough to have had the opportunity to be associated to such discovery and to have experienced such a wonderful adventure.

By the time I’m writing these lines, we have found more interesting elements. Unfortunately, I still must keep it secret. A study group has been created and we want to avoid any new media frenzy. But who knows? I might tell you more if you come and visit us at our second Belgian Goldpanning Championships on 25 and 26 august 2001. There, you will even be exceptionally allowed to pan for nice Belgian gold in a historic place. Interested? Please feel free to contact me at :


Bruno van Eerdenbrugh 

Bèche 24
à 6690 Vielsalm
tel 080/22.13.20

Golden greetings to all


[1] Translate by « the hole of the gnomes »