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Legendary mine finder David Lowell dead at 92

by Greg Klein | May 6, 2020

An axe injury while staking claims in central Saskatchewan helps illustrate the working life of an intrepid geologist in the 1950s. While topping trees David Lowell slashed his hand, but heavy blood loss hardly justified helicopter transport for medical attention. A few days later, as bleeding continued despite application of a rag bandage, a fellow geologist sewed up the cut with black carpet thread.

Legendary mine finder David Lowell dead at 92

Although Lowell admitted the process had him howling with pain, he concluded with stoic simplicity: “This worked fine.” They stayed in the bush for another week before heading back to Lac La Ronge, where a couple of Cree nurses examined the amateur stitch-up with amusement.

Lowell also spent time in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories as well as in British Columbia, where he worked at Highland Valley, Endako, Gibraltar and Craigmont. But the legend who passed away earlier this week was best known for discoveries farther south, starting in his native Arizona. The grandson of an Ontario-born prospector is credited with 17 major discoveries over 50 years in Arizona, Argentina, the Philippines, B.C., Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Paraguay.

Intrepid Explorer: The Autobiography of the World’s Best Mine Finder attributes significant work from others for seven of those achievements, which he categorizes as “maybe-I-was-responsible-for orebodies.” As he added, “there always are many more discoverers than discoveries.”

Lowell’s boots hit ground over much of the world but he also delivered university lectures in several countries and published widely. A longstanding collaboration with John Guilbert brought fame for the duo, better understanding of geology and many new mines through the Lowell-Guilbert Porphyry Copper Model, first published in 1970.

The model led to Lowell’s first discoveries, Kalamazoo and Vekol in Arizona, “which were remarkable at the time given the lack of visible copper mineralization at surface,” said a May 5 statement from Solaris Resources. Those finds were followed by Bajo Alumbrera in Argentina, to which Lowell acknowledged the contribution of others.

“David went on to discover the world’s largest copper deposit, La Escondida, in Chile in 1981,” Solaris pointed out. “This came from recognizing how the signature of his porphyry copper model would be modified in an extremely arid environment by a process known as ‘super leaching,’ which five prior companies exploring the property previously had failed to recognize.

“Likewise, in Peru, David identified the Northern Peru Gold Belt after library study, regional mapping, reconnaissance and sampling in a region that was not thought to be prospective. This work allowed him to narrow his focus and make the Pierina gold discovery in 1996, which was acquired by Barrick Gold for over $1 billion later that year.

“With Peru Copper, David took what was a known but under-appreciated deposit in Toromocho, relogged the existing drill core and completely reinterpreted the geology to lay the foundation for an exploration program that would increase its size by more than an order of magnitude. The project was acquired in 2007 for over $800 million.”

His last discoveries included Mirador in Ecuador, which began operation last year under a Chinese consortium, and Solaris’ flagship project Warintza in Ecuador, along with Lowell’s participation in finding Alto Parana in Paraguay. Lowell remained a Solaris consultant and strategic partner until his passing.

“Up until the very end of his life, David was busy designing programs to test his vision for the future of discovery in the Americas,” the company stated. “Innovation and ingenuity were constants throughout his legendary career.”

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