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Hydrothermal ore deposits form when metals, often as sulfides, precipitate in abundance from aqueous solutions in Earth's crust. Much of our knowledge of the fluids involved comes from studies of fluid inclusions trapped in silicates or carbonates that are believed to represent aliquots of the same solutions that precipitated the ores. We used laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry to test this paradigm by analysis of fluid inclusions in sphalerite from two contrasting zinc-lead ore systems. Metal contents in these inclusions are up to two orders of magnitude greater than those in quartz-hosted inclusions and are much higher than previously thought, suggesting that ore formation is linked to influx of anomalously metal-rich fluids into systems dominated by barren fluids for much of their life.