Inside the History of Gold

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The history of gold is fascinating. So fascinating you’ll want to bookmark this blog post and come back to it over and over. Why?

The history of gold, the story of where gold came from, involves meteorites, and the tomb of Tutankhamun. It involves colliding stars, and something called “terminal bombardment” more than 3.9 billion years ago…

Do we have your attention yet?

Theories on gold’s origin have long interested scientists. Unfortunately, there is no confirmed unified claim that posits exactly how gold came to Earth. But several studies have theorized the history of gold through various research focusing on crashing stars and zooming meteorites.

For instance, Edo Berger, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics believes two incredibly dense neutron stars collided and emitted a huge jet of gamma-rays across the universe. Berger says those neutron star collisions were responsible for the creation of virtually all the heavy elements in the universe. These include gold, mercury, lead, platinum and many more.

“The total amount of these heavy elements produced was about one percent the mass of the sun,” Berger told The Smithsonian. “Gold, in that distribution, is about 10 parts per million—so that comes out to about ten times the mass of the moon in gold alone.”

Another theory, from researchers at the University of Bristol, claims Earth’s surface was enriched with precious metals by impacting meteorites. Published in Nature in 2011, the study explains the history of gold by dissecting how Earth was formed 4.55 billion years ago.

The iron core, with its associated mixture of precious metals. was created soon within a few million years after. A final impact of a Mars-sized body with the Earth gave rise to the Moon and finished our planet’s formation. By this time all gold would be locked up in the core.

A final burst of meteorite impacts – 3.9 billion years ago – is dubbed the “terminal bombardment”. This caused the cratering that we still see on the Moon today. In this last impact event, the gold which we can access in the crust was delivered.

But how did gold traverse across the world?  According to one study in April 2017, crude oil and hot hydrothermal fluids played a key role.

Using high-resolution imaging techniques, Canadian researchers visualized unknown ore-forming process. There migrating oil plays a major role in the distribution and concentration of metals. “With our method we have been able to show remnants of fossil oil entrapped in gold for the very first time,” says Dr. Sebastian Fuchs.

Fuchs notes how hot hydrothermal fluids, similar to what we see today in modern seafloor Black Smoker systems, carried dissolved gold. These formed oil-in-water emulsions at the site of the deposits.

Tutankhamun’s Tomb, via Flickr user Ann Wuyts

Any post on the history of gold would be remiss to ignore how ancient civilizations decorated tombs and temples with gold. Gold items made more than 5,000 years ago have been found in Egypt, particularly in the tomb of Tutankhamun. This young pharaoh ruled Egypt in the 14th century B.C.

Also, the graves of royalty at the ancient Citadel of Mycenae near Nauplion, Greece, discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876, produced a wide range of gold figurines, masks, cups, diadems, and jewelry, plus hundreds of decorated beads and buttons.

For more features on gold, and how it’s used, go here.

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