Swedish amateur prospectors looking for berries strike gold

( dpa )- Two women from a small village in northern Sweden have likely hit the jackpot with their discovery of a potentially huge deposit of gold ore.

Harriet Svensson , 64, still gushed with excitement on Thursday when she recalled how she and her best friend Siv Wiik , 69, made the find in August.

The two often pick berries together in the forests near Overturingen , some 500 kilometres from Stockholm. But they are also amateur prospectors, and "we always have a geological hammer and a magnifying lens along in the car," Svensson said in a telephone interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa .

On August 21, they failed to find any blueberries at one of their regular spots. "So we said, 'let's go to that special place', as we call it," Svensson said of the location they believed was a good site.

The hunch proved right since they spotted something "extra" - an interesting piece of rock "about the size of a hand" that was visible at the edge of a forest clearing.

The women chipped away at it and under the magnifying glass the fingernail size piece glittered with what appeared to be yellow copper ore (chalcopyrite). They scraped away at the moraine soil and about 60 centimetres down hit rock that glittered "like the scales of a fish," Svensson said.

The two believed they had found zinc and copper, and decided they would immediately contact the Geological Survey of Sweden.

The following day an expert arrived and was taken to the site. He used a shovel to dig through the moraine, and saw further signs of a rich deposit.

"You should have seen the expression on his face," Svensson chuckled.

A month later, tests suggested rich gold deposits - roughly 23.3 grams of gold per ton - as well as zinc, silver and lead. Svensson and Wiik had by then already registered a claim.

"We thought it was a dream," Svensson said, adding that they were now in talks with various companies for the sale of investigation rights.

The promising discovery was also recognized by the Geological Survey of Sweden and local authorities that have since 1968 sponsored a "Mineral Hunt Prize" to encourage exploration for mineral deposits in sparsely populated northern Sweden.

In November, the two friends won 80,000 kronor (12,000 dollars), and have since been wooed by mining companies eager to exploit what has been dubbed one of the richest finds ever in Sweden by amateur prospectors.

"We are going to contact a lawyer before we decide what company will be allowed to conduct the exploration, but we really hope it will benefit the community," Svensson said.

Meanwhile, the two friends continue their daily walks and as ever are on the lookout for interesting minerals.

"It is a great workout and we enjoy being outdoors," Svensson said, adding that she planned to work as a school cook for at least a year.

The August find was the richest they have made, but the two have made smaller finds previously and often share their interest with children in the community of 171 people.

Swedish law allows anyone to make a mining claim, but landowners are compensated for damage caused by exploration and can cash in a percentage of earnings if a mine is established.

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