It is becoming apparent to modern scientists that heavy elements such as gold, platinum, iodine and silver exist on earth as a product of neutron-star collisions.
Of all the heavy elements, gold has become the most important, because it is rust- and tarnish-resistant, as it is unaffected by air and water; it is a good conductor of electricity; and it is the most malleable metal.
Gold is usually combined with other elements—such as copper, tin, silver and nickel—to form alloys, and has been valued for its use in jewelry, coins, tools, armor and weapons.
In modern times, it is used in dentistry, electronics, photographic film, in surgery and in automobile airbag systems, as a coating on office windows to keep out infrared rays, and in the space industry.
According to historians, ancient Egyptians were the first civilization to use gold, which was mined in Nubia in 2450 B.C. Other civilizations discovered it later: the Chinese discovered gold in the Yellow River 3,000 years ago; the Aztecs paid homage to Montezuma with gold bars; the Turks discovered gold in the tomb of King Midas; and South Africans used gold in jewelry, protective shields and money.
Gold exists in large quantities in the earth’s core, and it has been posited by scientists that lodes in the mantle exist due to asteroids and neutron-star collisions that occurred after the planet formed. The ocean floor contains large deposits, but it is too difficult and expensive to mine. Streams and rocks became the main sources, and gold is commonly found in lodes which form when hot fluids reach rocks and carry off pieces to waterways and other channels.
Mining began in the U.S. in the state of Georgia in the 1820s, and it was the impetus for the Trail of Tears, which displaced Native American tribes. The California gold rush began in 1848 at Sutter’s Mill, and 80,000 people in search of gold flocked to the region. By 1853, 250,000 miners had reached that area to pan for gold using simple methods. Initially, the mining villages were overcrowded and lawless, and strained resources, but eventually, local governments formed and organized small towns and banking. When the deposits became depleted, everyone left and ghost towns remained.
In 1851, gold was discovered in Melbourne, Australia, where large nuggets were commonplace. The largest, “The Holterman Nugget,” weighed 200 pounds. Other discoveries took place in British Columbia in Vancouver, in the Klondike region, and along the Yukon River of Canada in 1858, which served as inspiration for the books of Jack London; in 1859-60 near Virginia City, NV; in Colorado in the 1850s-1890s; and in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1876-1878.
In 1886, George Harrison, not a Beatle, discovered a large deposit in the Transvaal of South Africa. Previous mining methods became ineffectual: large equipment was necessary and financiers from nearby diamond mines bought up small gold mining companies to form large corporations.
Gold extraction is now performed through smelting, whereby crushed rock is heated with coke to create molten metal. This is poured into molds, then hardened and cooled. At present, South Africa produces 40 percent of the world’s gold.
The chemical symbol for gold is Au, which comes from the Latin word aurum which means “shining dawn.” The total of all gold mined to date could fill a cubic room of 18 meters per side, and that gold weighs 152,000 metric tons, or 60 tractor-trailers’ worth. Gold is heavy: 1 cubic foot weighs over a half-ton.
Gold is used by investors when other market strategies are weak and it has been a stabilizer of the economy.
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