What does a Prospector do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A prospector is someone who explores areas looking for minerals or other materials of value in the Earth. Prospectors can work independently, or may be employed by organizations such as mining companies. The prospector is the first person on the ground, and the person who determines whether or not a site should be more aggressively explored. Prospectors can work all over the world looking for materials like oil, coal, gold, diamonds, and scores of other minerals and metals which have commercial uses.

Prospectors often charter helicopters to take them to remote locations.
Prospectors often charter helicopters to take them to remote locations.

Prospectors need several different skill sets. Modern prospectors are often geologists, because a knowledge of geology is critical for prospecting work, as is an understanding of how indicator minerals work. Indicator minerals are minerals which are often present on or around deposits of minerals and ores of commercial value, and learning to identify them is important. While some indicator minerals are well known, when prospectors and mining companies identify new indicators, they often keep them under wraps so that they have an advantage on the competition.

Diamonds are just one of the minerals and resources sought by prospectors.
Diamonds are just one of the minerals and resources sought by prospectors.

A prospector must also be physically fit, willing to travel, and able to work long days. This work requires physically going to the site of interest, staking claims and filing associated paperwork, and collecting samples. Modern prospectors often start their work in the air, using a plane or helicopter to survey, but they will have to hit the ground eventually. Since claims can be vast, this can require days or weeks in relatively remote areas.

Many prospectors work with advanced technology, including equipment used to assay samples and computer programs which are designed to assist with prospecting tasks. As a result, they need to feel comfortable with computers and the programs they utilize, and in some cases they may need to be able to devise their own code for specialized projects. While a prospector can contract this work to another person, an intimate knowledge of geology and the site being explored is needed, and often the prospector is the most suitable person to do the work.

In the office, prospectors identify new potential sites of interest, working carefully to avoid alerting other prospectors and companies to the fact that they are interested in a site which has not yet been explored. Prospecting can in fact be quite cloak and dagger in some areas of the world; a prospector can't do something like simply driving through an unexplored area because this may alert other people to interest in potentially valuable deposits of ore and minerals.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


i like this job and am one of them.


Someone who wants to be a prospector would have to enjoy being in the outdoors, sometimes in very rough terrain. They would have to be willing to work on foot out in the field and be very observant, in order to find good mineral claims. The challenge of "search and find" would probably be a thrill.

A prospector in modern days, has to be adaptable because work on computers is part of the job. A degree in geology would be necessary to have a good working knowledge of minerals and related subjects. I have never known a prospector, but I imagine they enjoy their job.


The prospector of yesteryears and the modern prospector had quite a bit in common. Their goals and procedures were similar. In the days of the Goldrush, prospectors usually explored by themselves, on foot or horseback. They had to be sharp sighted to see evidence that there was a cache of gold or other valuable minerals in the area.

Then to stake out a claim, they needed to fill out paperwork. Just like prospectors of today, they had to make sure that other prospectors wouldn't find their cache of minerals before they got to the claims office. It was quite a lively time, with lots of scuffles and arguments about what belonged to whom.

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