Russian prospectors looking for gold came rather late into this North-East Siberian region, although the presence of this precious metal in its streams and valleys was common knowledge among the local nomadic tribes. However, as a result of their religious beliefs, these tribes were not willing to share this knowledge with the early Russian hunters and traders. The basic reason behind this had its roots in the teachings of their priests (shamans), to the effect that gold is "the root of all evil." This aphorism tied up to an ancient legend among them that gold was mistakenly left behind, when at the beginning of times the heavenly stars were sent down by the Great Spirit to collect all gold from Earth, which caused plenty of wickedness among the people. Within this legend there was a prediction of human disaster on enormous scale if and when gold was removed from the frozen ground of Kolyma. The prophecy was later translated into the human calamity of Stalin's purges that delivered millions of people into the cold and inhospitable land to die a cruel and horrible death.
The presence of this gold, for which the masters of the Soviet Union were ready to sacrifice any number of their fellow-human beings, and from which the northern people shied away, can be explained in a more prosaic, but scientific way by geologists. Their studies point to the presence of gold in some of the Earth's regions as result of land upheavals, volcanic eruptions, the formation of the earth's crust and gold placers, applying to them such geological ages as Triassic an Jurassic, measured in millions of years. One present-day geologist who specializes in the study of gold deposits is Prof. Wladyslaw J. Ciesielewicz, of Colorado School of Mines. He has explained the formation of Kolyma's gold deposits in these scientific terms in his paper "Russia's Bloody Gold":
"The Mesozoids of Kolyma and North East Yakutia constitute the last rich auriferous matalogenic province (in Russia) found along the edges of the Siberian shield. They form the so-called Yana-Kolyma folded belt, a series of mountain ranges extending from Southwest to Northwest across the entire Northeast Siberia. The rocks are mostly sandstone, shale and volcanic of the Triassic and Jurassic age. Structurally, Mesozoids represent the following stage of the geosynclical cycles. In the Upper Jurassic the Mesozoids were cut by porphyric gold bearing dikes which intruded along major faults (Ustiev 1972). Areas away from these deep-seated faults are barren. Zones of impregnation also developed in the shales. Subsequent lifts and erosion of these Mesozoid structures gave rise to the present-day structures. Before of the aforementioned regular structural control, the gold placers in Kolyma and Northeast Yakutia occur in a characteristic banded pattern. The placers are very young; some formed in Pleistocene. Russians claim that in the virgin state they contain the highest concentration of gold of any known placer province in the world."
Prof. Ciesielewicz was not the only Pole who dedicated himself to the study of this region. Long before him, and many decades before gold was discovered in Kolyma, some Polish patriots exiled to Siberia by the Tsar ventured to the region of Kolyma, being either forced by circumstances or by the will of their Russian masters. The most notable of these patriots was Jan Czerski. He was a young geographer-geologist and a fighter for Polish freedom in the unsuccessful 1863 uprising against the Tsar. Once he was captured, he was exiled to the far end of the Russian Empire and given the task of exploring the Northeast regions of the cold Siberian lands. He remained there for the rest of his life, contributing to the Russian science many notes and papers about the geography of Kolyma and Indigirka. These were preserved in the archives of the Academy of Science in St.Petersburg. Czerski died early in life at the age of 47 and was buried in one of the regions that he explored. In recognition of his contribution to science he was named the first (Russian) geologist of Northeast Siberian territories, and a mountain range was given his name. His grave originally had a wooden cross upon it, but this was later replaced with a solid stone obelisk.
The other known Polish exile to that region was Waclaw Sieroszewki, who spent several years exploring the land of Yakutia, and living with the native people of the territory. His legacy to these people was his book about their culture and traditions, known as the first written record about the nation of Yakutis. This book is held to this day as a treasured document about the earlier Yakuti way of life and their culture.
Another book, written by the Polish journalist and Stalin's prisoner in Kolyma, Anatoli Krakowiecki, gave an account of a Polish exile of the Tsar's era, called Krzyzanowski. The man after escaping to the Arctic region married a Yakuti woman and raised a family with her. He remained around the region of present-day Arkagala until 1934 when the first labor camps started to appear in his area. Like most of the northern people of that time he moved North and perhaps, like many of them, crossed the frozen Bering Strait and started a new life for himself and his family in a place safe from Stalin's persecutions.
Another Polish pioneer in this land, almost unknown in Poland, was Joseph Slonimski. He spent several years in Kolyma as a geologist, having been recruited by the Soviets in Paris. At his late age, and after return to Poland, he wrote a novelette about his experiences in that cold land, entitled "Purga." In this book he gives account of the early methods used to prospect for gold, the primitive technique employed to mine it and the ways of life of the northern people like Yakutis and Ewenis. He gave us valuable insight into the culture of the tribes, who raised herds of reindeer for food, clothing and shelter to live and survive in this frozen land.
The actual discovery of gold did not take place until 1910, when an escaped convict, Boriska, a man of Tartar origin, ventured accidentally into an Arctic valley rich in gold deposits. The news of this discovery was slow to spread through Russia, there being no news media in the modern sense. Soon after, in 1914, Tsarist Russia entered into war with Austria and Germany, which turned the discovery into an issue of only a secondary importance. Even the post-Revolutionary discovery of diamonds by a Tsarist officer, hiding from the Soviet secret police in the remote Siberian region, passed without notice. During the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921, the country was embroiled in internal strife and in no mood for sensational news about exciting discoveries.
Eventually, by 1925, the reports of Kolyma's gold reached Moscow and caught the attention of men of science and the top men in the Communist regime. This followed on from a new economic trend called the New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1922. According to NEP, the Russian currency was to be returned to a partial gold standard by which at least 25% of rubles were to be backed by gold. There was another contributory factor that made the setting up of gold reserves into a matter of great urgency. The country was on the verge of economic disaster and was urgently in need of new resources. The newly introduced social and economic reforms had brought the state to the edge of bankruptcy. This created an urgent need for outside help. To a country starved of foreign currency the gold deposits in Kolyma were a godsend. However, exploitation of this precious metal on a large scale was not immediately possible. The infrastructure had first to be put in place. The means to this were limited, or totally unavailable.
The first step undertaken by the Soviet Government to reach the gold was to encourage private enterprise in this far away corner of Siberia. This went counter to Soviet ideology and was very much discouraged in other parts of the Soviet Union. These gold prospectors, (using primitive methods of gold panning), obviously showed success in their undertaking - so much so that the Soviet government moved into the gold mining business, on its own, soon after.
The Special Committee for Siberian Affairs in Moscow, already at work in 1928, dispatched an expedition to the far east territories under the leadership of Karl Yanovich Luks, a Latvian communist and a former member of Lenin's guard unit. Accompanied by 35 compatriots, he landed in the region of present-day Magadan with the special task of building the "Kulturebase" or, in other words, supplies base for entire Kolyma on the shore of the Okhotsk Sea. Their first goal was to build the port on the site of a fishing haven called Nagayevo. The construction of the project, which started in 1929, proved to be a total disaster. On three occasions powerful storms washed the constructed buildings into the sea. Soon after, and for some unknown reason (in 1932) Luks himself committed suicide. The task of starting the building of infrastructure had therefore to be taken over by his successor.
In the same year a group of young geologists form Lena-Adan gold fields organized the first state expedition to explore Kolyma's mineral resources. This expedition, under the leadership of Yuri Aleksandrovich Bilibin, a geologist from the Moscow Academy of Mining, confirmed the existence of gold in that region but their findings as to the content of the gold in gold placers were inconclusive. A second expedition, organized by Abraham Issakovich Gernstein, also failed to locate the expected riches of the land. The next three expeditions, led by Valentin A.Tsarogrodski, (According to the report of Prof.W.Cisielewicz), finally discovered rich gold placers throughout the explored regions of Kolyma and Indigirka.
The deposits proved to be several times richer than those in other gold mining areas in the Soviet Union are. According to the estimate of the geologists, the payload was as much as 10 to 15 grams per cubic meter of soil which apparently is a very high ratio. One of the geologists of that era, Joseph Slonimski, in his book "Purga" described in detail the exploration of the discovered fields by panning for payloads. The method included digging one-meter deep holes in several places and washing the soil in water from melted snow until the gold content in the area was established. After having researched the soil and after having established the payload, proper mining for gold could begin, also by primitive methods i.e. by digging, washing and panning.