The Origin of Gold

Publised on July 11, 2013 - Article compiled and rewritten by admin.

Have you ever asked yourself: "Where does gold come from?"  "Has gold always been present on our planet?"  "Are meteorites the reason that there's gold out there?". Did you know that the oceans contain an enormous amount of dissolved gold? - - - Curious?  Keep reading and find out more about the origin of gold.

Cygnus Loop Supernova - Photograph courtesy J. J. Hester (Arizona State University)/NASA

Supernovae, or collapsing stars, provide the extremely hot conditions necessary to create dense atoms like gold. The Cygnus Loop supernova (above), was a colossal stellar explosion that occurred 15,000 years ago. Atoms inside supernovae collide forcefully and create intense heat — hundreds of millions of degrees.

 

In the beginning...

We ask Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of New York City's Hayden Planetarium, to explain the history of the rare element.

According to Tyson, author of Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandries, all gold on Earth started out in the center of a star; he says stars are "in the business of cosmic alchemy."

When the universe began, there were only two kinds of atoms: hydrogen, which has one proton, and helium, which has two protons.

The problem was that hydrogen and helium couldn't combine to make a new kind of atom of three, four or five protons. The two atoms resisted each other because they were the same charge.

Unless, of course, it got very, very hot. How much heat would it take to get two protons to sit together?

About 10 million degrees, Tyson says. And that's where stars come in.

 

Fiery Fusion

Stars like our sun are so hot that protons collide with such force and have no choice but to combine. It's called fusion. Inside the sun's furnace, protons turn into heavier and heavier atoms: Hydrogen atoms combine to become helium, and then those helium atoms combine to become carbon.

"It keeps going," Tyson says. "Carbon and oxygen and nitrogen and silicon, and [fusion] just plows its way up the periodic table of elements."

Carbon has six protons, nitrogen seven protons, oxygen eight protons. A hot star can cook all the way up to iron, a 26-proton atom. But that's where it stops.

"When you reach iron, nobody can do anything... It's dead matter. You can't fusion it. You can't fission it," Tyson explains.

Once a star has converted all its atoms into iron, it's out of fuel.

"That's a bad day for the star," Tyson says. "And at that moment, the entire star collapses, and in that collapse, the star reaches stratospheric temperatures and blows its guts to smithereens."

 

The Collapsing Star

A collapsing star is called a supernova. The explosion is so powerful and cataclysmic that you can see it across the universe.

Supernovae outshine whole galaxies, because the atoms inside are colliding furiously, creating intense heat — hundreds of millions of degrees.

Only in a supernova is it possible to create atoms with 30 protons, 40 protons, 50 protons or even 60 protons. Nature prefers even numbers for stability, but every so often, the star will forge an odd-numbered atom, a real rarity: gold!

Gold is a rare, odd-numbered atom with 79 protons. For every single gold atom in the universe, there are 1 million iron atoms, Tyson says.

 

A Long Journey

After the explosion, those few gold atoms are cast deep into the universe where they sit in empty space for eons. Eventually, some of the atoms may join a cloud. That cloud may condense into a planet.

Once inside a planet, some of the atoms may make it near the surface where we can come and dig them up.

So every atom of gold in your wedding ring was forged in a collapsing star, and then traveled across the universe to get to your finger. All the gold we wear and all the gold we give has made this same journey.

So how many miles and how many years are represented in a ring?

Calculating the path from several supernovae around our galaxy back to our solar system, Tyson concludes, all told, it's a journey of 3 million light years.

Watch these documentaries. English & German audio. Highly recommanded!

 

The Origin of Gold - Documentary

Die Entstehung von Gold - Dokumentation über die Entstehung von Gold

 

The presence of gold

Gold has always fascinated people and gold is certainly one of the very first metals known. Nobody knows who picked up a gold nugget first but it would have been because it was shiny. Gold was highly valued from the earliest recorded times in history. It seems that the Egyptians developed gold smelting some 5600 years ago (about 3600 BC) using clay blowpipes to heat the smelter contents. Egyptian inscriptions dating back to 2600 BC describe gold. Gold workers from Mesopotamia (known now as Iraq) made one of the earliest known pieces of gold jewellery in about 2600 BC. Gold is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. Tutankhamun's funeral mask is one of the most iconic gold pieces known. It was made around 1223 BC and is a stunning piece of ancient gold craftsmanship.

It is estimated that the total amount of gold ever mined on this planet can fit into a small apartment building measuring approximately 20 cubic meters. This equals about 167,000 metric tons of gold. This is a surprisingly small quantity.

About 89% of the gold ever mined during the 5,000 years of recorded human history happened from 1849 to 2012. The gold production worldwide is now 2,600 metric tons (or 50 million troy ounces) per year and is not growing as fast as demand.

Geological expects believe that only 51,000 tons of gold is left to be mined in the ground. However, 20 million tons of gold are believed to be dissolved in ocean water. Scientists have not yet discovered ways to distract the gold from the sea water efficiently to cover the high costs.  

So where is all the available gold on earth?

(Click on map to zoom in)

The 10 countries with the largest gold reserves:

Global official gold holdings totaled 31,694.8 tonnes as of April 2013, according to the latest report from the World Gold Council.


10. India

   Reuters/Babu

Official gold holdings: 
557.7 tonnes

Percent of foreign reserves in gold: 
9.6%

The government has been trying to deter people from purchasing the precious metal. Gold imports are blamed for the nation's record high current account deficit.

9. Netherlands

   Reuters/Brian Snyder

Official gold holdings: 
612.5 tonnes

Percent of foreign reserves in gold: 
58.7%

Back in 1999, the Netherlands announced under the Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA1) that it would sell 300 tonnes of gold during the next five years, but only managed to sell 235 tonnes. 

Under CBGA2 (2004/2005 –'08/'09) it said it would sell a total of 165 tonnes (which included the 65 tonnes left over from CBGA1), and it announced no sales under CBGA3 (from 2008/2009 – '13/'14).

8. Japan

    Reuters/Eriko Sugita

Official gold holdings: 
765.2 tonnes

Percent of foreign reserves in gold: 
3.1%

Japan's gold reserves were at just 6 tonnes in 1950, and its central bank registered its first serious jump in gold holdings in 1959, with purchases increasing by 169 tonnes from the previous year.

In 2011, the Bank of Japan sold gold to pump ¥20 trillion into the economy to calm investors after the tsunami and nuclear disaster.

7. Russia

     Reuters

Official gold holdings: 
976.9 tonnes

Percent of foreign reserves in gold: 
9.5%

Russia has been building its gold reserves since 2006 to diversify its Forex reserves, and to help build the ruble as an international reserve currency. In 2012, Russia added around 75 tonnes to its reserve holdings, mostly by purchasing domestically produced gold.

6. Switzerland

     Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Official gold holdings: 
1,040.1 tonnes

Percent of foreign reserves in gold: 
10.0%

In 1997 proposals were announced to sell a portion of the country's gold reserves because they were no longer considered to be "necessary for monetary policy purposes," according to the World Gold Council. 

In May 2000 the country began selling 1,300 tonnes of what it considered to be surplus gold. Under CBGA1 1,170 tonnes were sold, and 130 tones were sold under CBGA2. Switzerland has announced no plans to sell gold under CBGA 3.

5. China

    Reuters/Claro Cortes IV

Official gold holdings: 
1,054.1 tonnes

Percent of foreign reserves in gold:  
1.6%

Gold still accounts for a very small percent of China's $3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, compared with the international average of 10 percent.

Building up gold reserves will be crucial to China as it moves to internationalize its currency, and hopes to make it a reserve currency, according to the Financial Times.

4. France

    Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

Official gold holdings: 
2,435.4 tonnes

Percent of foreign reserves in gold: 
69.5%

France sold 572 tonnes of gold under CBGA 2, and outside of the agreement France transferred about 17 tonnes to the Bank for International Settlements in late 2004 as part purchase of BIS shares. France announced no plans for sales of gold reserves under CBGA 3.

3. Italy

      angelocesare / flickr

Official gold holdings: 
2,451.8 tonnes

Percent of foreign reserves in gold: 
71.3%

Italy sold no gold under CBGA 1 or 2 and has announced no sales under CBGA3. But in 2011, Italian banks were looking to the Bank of Italy to buy gold and bolster their balance sheets ahead of stress tests.

2. Germany

      Reuters/Lisi Niesner

 

Official gold holdings: 
3,391.3 tonnes

Percent of foreign reserves in gold: 
72.1%

Germany sold gold under CBGA 1 and 2 for the purposes of minting commemorative gold coins. In the first year of CBGA3 (2008 - 2009), the Bundesbank sold approximately 6 tonnes, and it has sold 4.7 tonnes of gold since September 7, 2011. There haven't been any changes in Germany's gold holding of late, but the Bundesbank announced in January that it was going to repatriate all of its physical reserves at Paris and the New York Fed.

1. United States

      Reuters/Mike Segar

Official gold holdings: 
8,133.5 tonnes

Percent of foreign reserves in gold: 
75.1%

The U.S. had its largest gold reserves in volume terms in 1952, when reserves totaled 20,663 tonnes. Holdings first fell below the 10K mark in 1968.

 

Video:  Inside the Gold Bullion Vault,  the Bank of England

 

 

A Brief History of Gold

Who discovered gold

A child finds a shiny rock in a creek, thousands of years ago, and the human race is introduced to gold for the first time.

Gold 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.

Gold 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 from ?

Because 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.

Gold 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.

Gold is the easiest of the metals to work. It occurs in a virtually pure and workable state, whereas most other metals tend to be found in ore-bodies that pose some difficulty in smelting. Gold's early uses were no doubt ornamental, and its brilliance and permanence (it neither corrodes nor tarnishes) linked it to deities and royalty in early civilizations.

    

                                                        

Gold 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.

Early 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.

Gold, beauty, and power have always gone together. Gold in ancient times was made into shrines and idols ("the Golden Calf"), plates, cups, vases and vessels of all kinds, and of course, jewelry for personal adornment.

The "Gold 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 sacred locations.

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.

In 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 of value?

Gold, measured out, became money. Gold's beauty, scarcity, unique density (no other metal outside the platinum group is as heavy), and the ease by which it could be melted, formed, and measured made it a natural trading medium. Gold gave rise to the concept of money itself: portable, private, and permanent. Gold (and silver) in standardized coins came to replace barter arrangements, and made trade in the Classic period much easier.

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.

Their science may have been primitive, but the Greeks learned much about the practicalities of gold mining. By the time of the death of Alexander of Macedon (323 B.C.), the Greeks had mined gold from the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) all the way eastward to Asia Minor and Egypt, and we find traces of their placer mines today. Some of the mines were owned by the state, some were worked privately with a royalty paid to the state. Also, nomads such as the Scythians and Cimmerians worked placer mines all over the region. The surviving Greek gold coinage and Scythian jewelry both show superb artistry.  

The Roman Empire furthered the quest for gold. The Romans mined gold extensively throughout their empire, and advanced the science of gold-mining considerably. They diverted streams of water to mine hydraulically, and built sluices and the first 'long toms.' They mined underground, also, and introduced water-wheels and the 'roasting' of gold-bearing ores to separate the gold from rock. They were able to more efficiently exploit old mine-sites, and of course their chief laborers were prisoners of war, slaves, and convicts.

A monetary standard made the world economy possible. The concept of money, (i.e., gold and silver in standard weight and fineness coins) allowed the World's economies to expand and prosper. During the Classic period of Greek and Roman rule in the western world, gold and silver both flowed to India for spices, and to China for silk. At the height of the Empire (A.D. 98-160), Roman gold and silver coins reigned from Britain to North Africa and Egypt.
Money had been invented. Its name was gold.

The Incas referred to gold as the "tears of the Sun."

Homer,in the "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?"

As 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 silver.

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.

Where 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.

Modern 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 1200 B.C.

That 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.

This 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.

The first 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.'



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