Top Ten Interesting and Fun Facts About Gold
What is Gold?
Gold is defined as a precious metal. Its unique status among the other metals comes from its intrinsic beauty, its rarity and its physical properties.
It is one of the basic elements with an atomic number of 79. If you are keen on chemistry, you can look it up on the periodic table. Its chemical symbol is Au.
In its pure form, it has a deep yellow color and is incredibly soft, malleable and ductile. These properties have led to its widespread use in the making of jewellery and art.
Another of the many reasons why gold is so highly prized is because it is incredibly resistant to corrosion, rust and decay. Because of this quality of resistance it is a reliable 'yardstick' of value.
For that reason, coupled with its rarity, it is used as the standard against which we measure the value of money.
No single substance on Earth has had such a huge influence on the course of human history and the shaping of society, culture and science as has gold.
Let's discover some amazing facts about gold - its history, chemistry, mythology and more...
Gold: a Blessing or a Curse?
Since it was first discovered, gold has been valued for its uses in making jewellery, art and crafts, as well as money.
Culturally, it is often associated not only with wealth but also as a symbol of happiness, love, justice and divinity.
Gold Facts: One
The chemical symbol for gold, Au, comes from a Latin word, Aurum, which translates as 'shining dawn.'
Only about ten percent of the gold that we have extracted is actually used in manufacture.
The rest is carefully stored as it is used as the constant against which the value of the world’s financial markets is measured.
There is no doubt that human love for gold has brought great pleasure and beauty to many people.
At the same time, it has also been responsible for terrible wars, poverty and suffering.
Gold in Mythology and History
One of the most famous of the all the Ancient Greek myths tells of the journeys of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest to find The Golden Fleece.
Interestingly, this myth may have some basis in history.
Gold Facts: Two
Gold is used in glass making to produce a rich, red color in stained glass work.
Archaeologists and historians have discovered that the ancient Greeks used to collect flecks of gold that were being washed down their rivers by stretching sheep fleeces across the water.
The tiny particles of gold would become entangled in the wool and could be shaken out once the fleece was dry.
While today we think of gold as a very rare metal, in Ancient Egypt it was considered relatively common. Certainly, the Egyptians were mining for gold from as early as 2,600 B.C. A hieroglyphic inscription has been discovered which states that Egyptian gold was 'more common than dirt.'
Gold Facts: Three
Right up until 1930, gold coins were still manufactured in the British Isles using 22 Carat gold. The carat is a measure of the purity of gold.
The Romans also mined gold, extracting vast quantities across the countries of their great empire.
In medieval times, an African Emperor called Mansa Musa travelled on a diplomatic visit to Egypt.
It is said that he distributed such a large quantity of gold during his stay that Egyptian money was significantly devalued for many years after he left!
Jason and the Golden Fleece
How Much Gold is There?
Extracted gold was certainly a lot rarer in ancient times than it is today.
Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution and refined methods for the location and mining of gold, more gold has been discovered.
Gold Facts: Four
Hallmarks, used to authenticate the origin and purity of gold, have been in use since the 14th Century.
About 75% of all the gold that there is in storage or circulation today has been mined since 1910.
Current estimates suggest that well over 170,000 metric tonnes of gold have been extracted.
Gold Facts: Five
Some of the cars used in Formula One racing have engine parts covered in gold foil to help with heat dispersal.
So what happens to all this gold?
Well, something like 50% of it is made into jewellery and art, about 10% is used in chemistry, science and food production. The remaining 40% is carefully controlled and stored in bank vaults to protect the value of currencies.
The value of gold increases with its age.
The gold held by the US Government is stored in a specially built repository at Fort Knox. Watch the video below to find out about the history, romance and truth of this famous stronghold.
Fort Knox Gold Stronghold Documentary
Gold Leaf is a sheet of gold that has been beaten so thin that it is practically translucent.
Gold is so soft and malleable that it can easily be formed and shaped in many ways.
Gold Facts: Six
In medieval times gold leaf was used to decorate food and drink at feasts to show off the wealth of the host. It was also thought to have magical properties that could aid health when eaten!
If you take a single gram of gold and beat it out flat, you can get a sheet one square meter in size and a fraction of a millimeter thick out of it!
Gold Leaf has been used in the decoration of medieval Bibles and other manuscripts, religious iconography and in the work of secular artists such as Gustav Klimt who incorporated it into many of his most famous paintings.
'The Kiss' by Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918)
Inside a Gold Leaf Workshop
There are still a few fine craftspeople who work with gold leaf, using the old techniques perfected back in the days of Queen Victoria and the British Empire.
Gold Facts: Seven
Today, China produces more gold than any other country.
Watch the following video for a fascinating insight into the workshop of one of these artists, living and working today in a small workshop in the southwest of the UK.
The Lost Cities of Gold
From the time when Europeans first discovered the South Americas, there were tales told of lost cities built entirely of gold.
In fact, no such cities ever existed. However, as with many traveler's tales, there was truth behind the legends.
Gold Facts: Eight
Gold has many wonderful properties. One of those is that it is ductile - so it can be stretched out into very thin filaments to make golden threads which are then used in embroidery.
The Aztecs did mine gold and use it in personal decoration and religious rituals. To them, gold was a sacred metal. They believed that it was made by the gods and the way they thought the gods made it is indicated by their word for it, which translates as 'god poop.' Strange but true!
While the fabled Lost Cities of gold have yet to be found, many modern cities have been founded on gold in another sense.
During the Nineteenth Century new gold reserves were frequently uncovered across America, Canada and Australasia. The wealth arising from these reserves - and the settlement of prospectors in those areas - led to the foundation of towns that became cities and established centers of modern civilization.
Search for El Dorado - The Lost City of Gold
A Golden Treasure Trove
Many have dreamed of finding buried treasure.
The funny thing is - it does sometimes happen. And the modern technology of the metal detector has been responsible for some amazing finds of gold in recent times.
Gold Facts: Nine
Gold is used in photography to produce toners that have rich color and stability.
In 2009, one of the most extraordinary stashes of treasure was found by an enthusiastic metal detector user in the UK.
He was using his machine in a field near his home in the county of Staffordshire when it started bleeping like crazy. Beginning to dig, he uncovered a hoard of gold weaponry, helmets, decorations, jewellery, tableware, chalices, coins and crosses.
The gold treasure trove dated back to AD 700 and remains the largest find of its kind to this day.
Many people have found lesser but still very valuable treasures by the use of metal detectors.
Who knows who will be the next to uncover a hoard of ancient gold? It could even be you!
The Staffordshire Hoard
Every sports person dreams of winning a gold medal.
Gold medals are also awarded with the Nobel Prizes.
While the Nobel Prize medals are genuinely made of pure gold, the Olympic gold medals aren't: they are made of silver and then plated with a thin layer of gold.
Gold Facts: Ten
Gold is still used in some food manufacturing processes today. It is ascribed the 'E number' 175. Look out for it!
Fake gold medals and coins are also made to fool the unwary.
However, real gold will always have a hallmark stamped on it, which proves that it has been tested.
A hallmark shows:
- the carat (how pure the gold is)
- the maker of the gold
- which authority tested the gold
With old gold especially, the hallmark can help to understand its history.
How Gold is Mined
A Golden End
I hope you've enjoyed finding out about gold.
Did you learn something new here?
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© 2014 Amanda Littlejohn