A Brief History of Gold
Who discovered gold
child finds a shiny rock in a creek, thousands of
years ago, and the human race is introduced to gold
for the first time.
was first discovered as shining, yellow nuggets. "Gold
is where you find it," so the saying goes, and
gold was first discovered in its natural state, in
streams all over the world. No doubt it was the first
metal known to early hominids.
became a part of every human culture. Its brilliance,
natural beauty, and luster, and its great malleability
and resistance to tarnish made it enjoyable to work
and play with.
Where does gold come
gold is dispersed widely throughout the geologic world,
its discovery occurred to many different groups in
many different locales. And nearly everyone who found
it was impressed with it, and so was the developing
culture in which they lived.
was the first metal widely known to our species.
When thinking about the historical progress of technology,
we consider the development of iron and copper-working
as the greatest contributions to our species' economic
and cultural progress - but gold came first.
is the easiest
of the metals
to work. It
occurs in a
to be found
that pose some
uses were no
and its brilliance
linked it to
has always been powerful stuff. The earliest history
of human interaction with gold is long lost to us,
but its association with the gods, with immortality,
and with wealth itself are common to many cultures
throughout the world.
civilizations equated gold with gods and rulers, and
gold was sought in their name and dedicated to their
glorification. Humans almost intuitively place a high
value on gold, equating it with power, beauty, and
the cultural elite. And since gold is widely distributed
all over the globe, we find this same thinking about
gold throughout ancient and modern civilizations everywhere.
and power have
times was made
and idols ("the Golden Calf"),
vases and vessels
of all kinds,
and of course,
of Troy" treasure hoard, excavated in Turkey
and dating to the era 2450 -2600 B.C., show the range
of gold-work from delicate jewelry to a gold gravy
boat weighing a full troy pound. This was a time when
gold was highly valued, but had not yet become money
itself. Rather, it was owned by the powerful and well-connected,
or made into objects of worship, or used to decorate
Gold has always had value to humans, even before it
was money. This is demonstrated by the extraordinary
efforts made to obtain it. Prospecting for gold was
a worldwide effort going back thousands of years, even
before the first money in the form of gold coins appeared
about 700 B.C.
the quest for gold by the Phoenicians, Egyptians,
Indians, Hittites, Chinese, and others, prisoners
of war were sent to work the mines, as were slaves
and criminals. And this happened during a time when
gold had no value as 'money,' but was just considered
a desirable commodity in and of itself.
The 'value' of gold was accepted all over the world.
Today, as in ancient times, the intrinsic appeal of
gold itself has that universal appeal to humans. But
how did gold come to be a commodity, a measurable unit
is as heavy),
and the ease
by which it
could be melted,
it a natural
Gold gave rise
to the concept
of money itself:
Gold (and silver)
and made trade
in the Classic
Gold was money in ancient Greece. The Greeks mined
for gold throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East
regions by 550 B.C., and both Plato and Aristotle wrote
about gold and had theories about its origins. Gold
was associated with water (logical, since most of it
was found in streams), and it was supposed that gold
was a particularly dense combination of water and sunlight.
to gold as the "tears
of the Sun."
"Iliad" and "Odyssey," makes mention
of gold as the glory of the immortals and a sign of
wealth among ordinary humans. In
Genesis 2:10-12, we learn of the river Pison out of
Eden, and "the land of Havilah, where there is
gold: and the gold of that land is good?"
far back as 3100 B.C., we have evidence of a gold/silver
value ratio in the code of Menes, the founder of
the first Egyptian dynasty. In this code it is stated
that "one part of gold is equal to two and one
half parts of silver in value." This is our
earliest of a value relationship between gold and
In ancient Egypt, around the time of Seti I (1320
B.C.), we find the creation of the first gold treasure
map now known to us. Today, in the Turin Museum is
a papyrus and fragments known as the
"Carte des mines d'or." It pictures gold
mines, miners' quarters, road leading to the mines
and gold-bearing mountains, and so on.
is that gold mine located? Well,
you know how it is with treasure maps - there's always
something a little vague about them, to throw you
off the trail.
thought is that it portrays the Wadi Fawakhir region
in which the El Sid gold mine is located, but the
matter is far from settled. Jason
and the Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece around
Greek myth makes more sense when you realize that
the fleece that it refers to is the sheep's fleece
used in the recovery of fine placer gold.
Early miners would use water power to propel gold-bearing
sand over the hide of a sheep, which would trap
the tiny, but heavy, flakes of gold. When the fleece
had absorbed all it could hold, this 'golden fleece'
was hung up to dry, and when dry would be beaten
gently so that the gold would fall off and be recovered.
primitive form of hydraulic mining began thousands
of years ago, and was still being used by some miners
as recently as the California gold rush of 1849.
use of gold as money occurred around 700 B.C., when
Lydian merchants produced the first coins. These were
simply stamped lumps of a 63% gold and 27% silver
mixture known as 'electrum.' This standardized unit
of value no doubt helped Lydian traders in their wide-ranging
successes, for by the time of Croesus of Mermnadae,
the last King of Lydia (570 -546 B.C.), Lydia had
amassed a huge hoard of gold. Today, we still speak
of the ultra-wealthy as being 'rich as Croesus.'