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Kazak Herdsman Finds 17 Pound Gold Nugget in the Shape of China

Michael Mashuta

A Kazak herdsman has become an instant celebrity since discovering a 17-pound, $255,000 gold nugget “practically lying on bare ground” in the far western Xinjiang region of China.

The lucky herdsman, Berek Sawut, from Qinghe County in Altay Prefecture, told a Chinese news agency that he was walking around a local mining site on January 30 when suddenly he saw a brilliant yellow object lying exposed on the ground.

“When I walked closer, I was dumbfounded,” he said. “My god, it was a piece of gold. I was so excited that I was jumping up and down.”

The nugget, which resembles the shape of China and has a precious metal value of approximately $255,000, is nine inches long, seven inches wide and three inches thick. The nugget is said to be composed of 80 percent pure gold, with the rest being quartz, sandstone and other minerals.

The nugget’s quarter-million-dollar valuation is on the conservative side because it doesn’t account for the specimen’s uniqueness and rarity. The nugget is said to be the largest ever found in this region of China and could be worth several times more than its precious metal content.

Whether or not Sawut will be allowed to keep or sell the nugget has yet to be determined. Chinese law states that mineral resources found on the surface or below the surface are property of the state. So far, local authorities have not contacted Sawut about the nugget.

A Chinese lawyer familiar with mineral rights expected that the local government would claim the nugget and offer Sawut a reward for finding it. In this area of China, where the average income is $1,340 per year, the reward could be life changing for Sawut and his family.

Still, Sawut is enjoying his new-found celebrity status. He told a Chinese news agency, “My home is like a marketplace every day, with some people bringing cameras to take photographs, some posting it to their WeChat friends circle, and some taking photos with it.”

The Altay region, which is a mountainous territory lying near the borders of Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, has a long and storied history of gold mining. In fact, the word “altay” means “gold” in Mongolian. The region produced 20 tons of gold in 2014 and is the home to more than 600 gold mines.

China’s Xinhua news agency reported that a four-pound gold nugget was found in Altay in 2010.