Gold mining pans were used during the Klondike Gold Rush as a simple way to find placer gold. The standard gold pan has a flat bottom with flat sloping sides (about 4") and would be used for testing.
The standard pan was filled with gravels from a creek bed, river bank or hillside. The pan filled with gravel would be repeatedly washed, a process involving immersing the gravel into water, then shaking it aggressively from side-to-side; then tilting the pan and discarding the worthless pebbles and rocks while underwater. As the miner continues to pan, the lighter materials are washed out by tilting the pan at 45 degrees, dipping it into the water and withdrawing it. The volume of gravel decreases and it becomes easier to pick out the gold flakes and 'colours' or specks of gold. The number of such colours left in the pan determines whether a creek is worth mining.
The basic prospecting tools (to find the gold) were the gold pan, shovel and pick. The basic mining tools (to separate the gold) used during the Klondike Gold Rush were rocker boxes and sluice boxes. Still today the main icon of the Klondike is a gold pan with a crossed pick and shovel. The gold pan remains unchanged, it is used today as it always has.
“Thus they came wearily to the fork of Rabbit Creek once more, and pressed on for about half a mile before making camp for the night. It was August 16, the eve of a memorable day that is still celebrated as a festive holiday in the Yukon Territory. Who found the nugget that started it all? Again, the record is blurred. Years afterward Carmack insisted it was he who happened upon the protruding rim of bed-rock from which he pulled a thumb-sized chunk of gold. But Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie always claimed that Carmack was stretched out asleep under a birch tree when Jim, having shot a moose, was cleaning a dish-pan in the creek and made the find. At any rate the gold was there, lying between the flaky slabs of rock like cheese in a sandwich. A single panful yielded a quarter ounce, or about four dollars' worth [$150 today]. In a country where a ten-cent pan had meant good prospects, this was an incredible find.”
– Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush 1896-1899, Pierre Burton
Dawson City Museum, Dawson City