Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and atomic number 79. Its symbol corresponds to the first two letters of the Latin word “aurum”. Native gold Native gold is considered to be a precious or noble stone, with a “golden yellow” colour. Its texture is dense and very soft, therefore easy to work, by hand or using a stick. Gold manufacturing is called “goldsmithing”. There are several types of gold. Yellow gold which contains 75% gold just like pink gold and grey gold, white gold which is synonymous with grey gold, the only difference being that it is covered with a layer of rhodium, and lastly, blue gold which is a mixture of gold and iron, subjected to a heat treatment. Native gold is found in river water, in the form of gold flakes, but also in the rock of exploited mines. Some rivers are gold-bearing, meaning that the gold flakes in the rock break off and diffuse into the water. In addition, some people who are looking for gold will find it directly under the ground with a detector. Native gold stone, surely thanks to its colour, has always symbolised light, wealth, the divine and spirituality, for any kind of society. It sublimates religion by its rarity and prestige. Native gold stone represented very early an offering to the gods, a way to bury the dead, and also a stone widely used in religious ceremonies. From time immemorial, native gold was highly appreciated for its colour, and widely used. Gold ornaments were made from the end of the Neolithic period, and since Antiquity, gold coins were also made. Gold, as well as silver, has always been highly prized for its monetary value.
The name “gold” comes directly from the Latin word “aurum”, and the adjective “gold-bearing” refers to any element containing gold. It can also be found written “aur” in some ancient French texts. Nubia, now a region of northern Sudan and the extreme south of Egypt, is the land of gold, which was considered “as abundant as the dust of the roads”. Nubia was conquered by Egypt. Nowadays, gold is used in dentistry and odontology (the medical and surgical science of the oral organ), as well as in electronics, possessing superior resistance and very good electrical conductivity. In addition, it is a reflective metal used for one-way mirrors, and helps conserve heat in winter. For scientific equipment and chemistry utensils, gold is also crucial. In the medical field, dentures such as crowns are often made of gold. Native gold can also be a medicine, and when processed, it can be ingested without any problem. Its main use remains hoarding (the process of accumulating wealth by keeping it out of the basic economic circuit). In June 2010, banks around the world were hoarding around 27,000 tonnes of gold: 40% in the euro zone, 30% in the United States and 15,000 tonnes in India, in private savings.
The oldest native gold stone objects are the jewels of Varna, dating from 4300 B.C., and are currently exhibited in the necropolis of Varna, Bulgaria. Although its undeniable monetary value in Egypt and the Middle East is hidden, gold has been widely used in Europe since the 3rd millennium BC. For example, tombs show us gilding and gold coins, which from then on symbolised luxury and wealth. During the Chalcolithic period (late Prehistory), the Atlantic peoples used gold in their ornaments, symbols of power and strength. Then, in the Bronze Age, this process accelerated and gold was used more and more for tiaras, torques, bracelets, etc. Gold is discovered through a process of excavation, and gold hoarding is becoming more and more common. Indeed, gold is buried underground or hidden, in order to keep one’s fortune aside for hard times. From the beginning of the Iron Age, gold was used less and less. However, gold cups and gold weapons were still made. After 550 B.C., tombs are covered with gold and gold objects, especially the tombs of important people: gold is precious and still symbolizes wealth and luxury. Then, during the Tène period, the peak of Celtic culture in Europe, between 450 and 25 B.C., gold and bronze objects were still present. We can easily say that gold has always been important in every society, first of all, to show the power of the rulers, but also for the conduct of religious ceremonies. Gold is likened to the sun because of its colour, and in many societies it is an important rite element, as for example in Egyptian society, where gold is present on tombs. Tutankhamun and Ramses were also buried with gold objects such as ornaments. However, there was very little gold at that time, and the gold was mined in terrible conditions of desert drought. Rulers increased their gold stock by asking the population for tribute or by stealing it militarily. We can mention famous battles that brought a lot of gold: first of all, the victory of Trajan at the beginning of the 2nd century, after which Rome came back with 180 tons of gold and 350 tons of silver.
In addition, the victory of Bismarck (1871) brought 967 tons of gold to Germany, a ransom paid by France. During Antiquity, the Lydian kings (Asia Minor) minted the very first coin in history, as we know it today. These were electrum coins, a mixture of gold and other components (copper, etc.) containing 50 to 60% gold. These coins had different weights and values, but the heaviest weighed about 10.9 grams. A lion’s head was minted on these coins, which already had a round shape. Gold was minted in temples and palaces, and was then used as common currency among private individuals. This new monetary system spread to Persia, central Greece, and then the entire ancient world adopted this means of exchange. Until 1973, the whole world used gold as a common currency. However, gold has always been used in religion, and is still a symbol of divinity. For example, saints have a golden halo, and the word Latin word “aureola” means “golden” in Latin. The Greeks and Germans liked to bury their leaders with a gold coin in their mouths. Moreover, gold jewellery has always been reserved for the upper classes of the population: the chiefs and rulers. It was more and more difficult for the West to extract gold during the Sassanid and Arab conquests, which led to the use of silver which exceeded the use of gold in the 8th century. In the 10th century, gold was gradually reintroduced in the West. From time immemorial, scientists tried to create native gold stone by all means, from lead and mercury for example.
If the conquest of America was rapid, it was partly due to the search for gold. Hernán Cortés, a Spanish conquistador, during the conquest of the Aztec Empire in Mexico, aimed at recovering the gold present in this part of the world. Once his mission was successful, Cortés sent a large part of his spoil to the Spanish king Charles V, who himself levied a tax called the “quinto real”, which is one-fifth of all the gold mined in Spain. Spain and Portugal became rich receiving gold from America, then it was the turn of other European countries (France, Great Britain…). Around the 17th century, gold became the basis of the monetary systems. We can mention in particular the Louis d’or under Louis XIII. In addition, the gold standard system, a monetary system in which gold was weighed and considered as a payment unit, was abolished by the Bretton Woods agreements.
The gold rushes are firmly rooted in the global history of the economy and monetary systems. These include the gold rushes of Brazil (Minas Gerais in 1725), Russia (Urals in 1750), Siberia (1840), Australia (1840), California (1848), Alaska and the Klondike, and then South Africa in 1885. The origin of the largest gold rush dates back to 1839. Johan August Sutter, a Swiss merchant, set up his California farm in Sacramento and planned to grow his business there. While developing his farm, he decided to build a sawmill, and chose James Marshall to ensure the smooth functioning of its work. Only in 1848, Marshall discovered pieces of gold while digging during the work. He called John Sutter to inform him of his discovery, and after a few tests, it was indeed this precious metal of 23 carats (96% gold). This was the birth of the gold rush and the “Californian dream”. However, Sutter tried to hide his secret as best he could, which once discovered would attract a mass of people who wanted to find gold as well. But it was quickly discovered, and the information quickly made its way through the media. We know in particular that Samuel Brannan, a journalist, is said to have shouted, “Gold! Gold! There is gold in the American River!” on the street, drawing the attention of the New York Herald, releasing the information for all to see. First of all, Californians were obviously the first to rush to Sutter’s farm and according to a report by Colonel Mason: “The discovery of these important gold deposits has totally changed the character of Upper California. Its inhabitants… have gone or are going to the mines. Workers of all trades have left their posts and merchants their stores; sailors desert their ships as soon as they touch land.” Thus, Mason alerted his superior and sent him some gold nuggets. In December, James Polk, the president, confirms the presence of the Californian gold mines during a speech to the American Congress. This official declaration causes an even greater acceleration of the gold rush, and at the beginning of the following year, the “forty-niners” hurry to go to California. The promise of gold completely blinded the migrants called “forty-niners” in reference to the year of the California gold rush (1949).
Until 1950, California had few laws and restrictions because the region had just been abandoned by Mexico. All kinds of people with very different professions (sailors, businessmen, workers, etc.) rushed to California and competed for pieces of this very precious gold, using a detector. Until 1856 and during 8 years, more than 300,000 people in total tried to find gold in California and to enjoy the richness of this territory, abandoning their former life, trade, cattle, exploitation or employment. Some managed to collect the equivalent of more than a million dollars, and some workers lived a true California dream by collecting enough money to cover six years’ wages. Historian Henry William Brands described the American Dream in 2003: “The old American Dream was… men and women who were content with the modest fortunes they had amassed over the years. The new American Dream was that of immediate wealth, gained in a flash with boldness and luck. It is only since then that this golden dream (…) has become an important part of the American myth”. California, hitherto without status and neglected, sees its future change thanks to the gold rush. More and more immigrants came to settle there, and California’s population grew from 1,000 in 1848 to 150,000 in 1860. As a result, churches, new roads, schools, and all types of buildings were added. New means of transportation were created (steamboats, railroads), and new “boom cities” grew in California (a city that experienced a sudden demographic and economic boom). The goldfields were governed by a special law: California had no law at the time because it had no official status. As a result, the rules of this territory are in fact a mixture of Mexican laws (California was once Mexican), army orders, and personal principles. A “claim” is a law stating that a piece of land belongs to someone from the moment a person claims it.
CThis self-proclaimed law resulted in the drafting of a Constitution for California, the election of representatives for that territory, and eventually its entry as the 31st state of the United States. But the gold rush also had dramatic consequences: Native Americans were driven out of their territory, causing a loss of resources and sometimes the death of some natives. The Native American population fell from 150,000 to 30,000 in the space of 25 years. In addition, many forty-niners killed each other during the rush, and 1 in 12 died in the course of their quest, due to the growth of crime on the territory. Chinese and Latin American gold diggers were repelled by Americans and Europeans, and there is a book about the facts of the time, written by writer Joaquin Miller. “Life Amongst The Modocs” tells the story of life in the mines of California as well as in the Native American refugee camps. Contrary to what one might think, and even though we know that many gold seekers do not harvest the amount of this precious metal that they would have liked to bring back, John Sutter was the loser of history. He invested in a mine that brought him little profit and ended his life in misery: “Without the discovery of gold in California, I would have become the richest man on the West Coast. “Welcome Stranger” is the name of the largest nugget discovered in a California mine. It weighed the equivalent of 72 kilos. However, the largest nugget that is still whole is called “Hand of Faith”. It weighs 27.2 kilos and was discovered with a metal detector. Today, it is still on display in Las Vegas at the Golden Nugget Casino. The largest piece of gold found in France was discovered in Ardèche in 1889 by a shepherd, and weighs 543 g. « Native gold » sstone means that the gold is not pure and is mixed with other metals (copper, iron…). To obtain pure gold, native gold has to be refined. However, native gold is used in jewellery because pure gold is too soft for this. It is rare to find pieces of native gold stone, and they are therefore very expensive. But placer mining, the search for gold in gold-bearing rivers, is a system that makes it possible to find the metal somewhere other than in the mines.
A nugget of native gold stone contains about 20 to 22 carats, and is often mixed with other metals, such as copper.
The first artificial nucleosynthesis of gold (bombardment of mercury with neutrons), dates back to 1941. However, this method is not ideal and is problematic because its cost is higher than gold processing. The beginning of the First World War in 1914 marked the end of the gold standard in the United Kingdom, and finally in the rest of the world, after the abolition of the bimetallic gold and silver system around 1870. In 1944, the Bretton Woods Agreement, resulting from the Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire, gave way to a new system: the Gold Exchange Standard. This stipulates that the US dollar corresponds to a weight in gold, and that all other world currencies correspond to a certain number of dollars. This lasted until 1971, when the United States decided that the dollar could no longer be converted into gold. Moreover, in 1976, the Jamaican agreements, drawn up between the countries forming the institution of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), stipulated that gold would no longer have any monetary value. However, the banks still keep gold available in their reserves in case of need. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is the largest gold reserve in the world. But the best known is the bank in Fort Knox, Kentucky. We know that in 1995, the total gold held in the reserves of all the banks in the world could form a 12-edge cube, or about 910 million ounces.
Nowadays, gold, even though it is no longer an official currency, still plays a crucial role in the world economy, as well as in the stock exchanges of the main Western countries (New York, London, and Tokyo). But gold is also very important in art, whether for jewellery, gilding or painting. For example, the Leonis workshops continue to gild with gold leaf or mercury. A gram of well-treated gold can become a very fine wire 3,000 metres long, cover 1 m² of surface area or be transformed into a sheet 1/15 μm thick. Gold is also essential in the manufacture of electronic products of all types, but also in dentistry and oral care and treatment. In sport, gold, ahead of silver and bronze, is the coveted reward of the winner of competitions: we can mention gold medals at the Olympic Games, the Golden Ball in football…). Nowadays, gold hoarding is a safe and accurate way to save your wealth by cutting it off from the basic money circuit, ensuring that it resists price fluctuations.
Stellar nucleosynthesis is an astrophysical term that refers to the nuclear reactions occurring inside stars. Gold is indeed a product of this stellar nucleosynthesis, and this process has been going on for a dozen billion years. There are two conflicting hypotheses regarding the formation of gold within stars. The first says that the explosion of a supernova led to the formation of gold, and the second says that the collision of two stars caused the formation of gold. The latter would be the correct hypothesis, according to a simulation dating from 2011, and a study of the galaxy dating from 2016. Gold is siderophilic, i.e. it is often associated with iron. It is therefore mainly found in the Earth’s core, and very little in the earth’s crust. But the little gold present in the earth’s crust is already too much: it is between a hundred and a thousand times too much here, due to a bombardment dating from 3.8 to 4 billion years ago. Gold has a density of 19.3 and a low hardness, from 2.5 to 3 on the Mohs hardness scale. It is therefore very malleable. Gold in its “native” state is gold found in nuggets, but it is rarer than gold that can be found in flakes, granules, dust or grains. It is rare but possible to find gold mixed with quartz or other metals such as copper or iron.
Gold is often yellow, hence the term “golden yellow”, but can vary up to a reddish-yellow sheen. The purer the gold, the darker its colour is. The lighter the gold, the more it is mixed with other metals. In order to decide to mine an area, you must prove that it is worth mining, and therefore justify that there is more than 1 gram of gold per tonne of rock. However, gold is randomly and unusually distributed throughout the world, and some areas of the world have rocks that have a million times the average amount of gold per rock, that is, a concentration of one milligram per tonne. By the end of 2010, humanity had mined about 166,000 tons of gold, or a cube with a twenty-metre ridge. We know that in 1993, the total reserves stored by the world banks weighed about 35,000 tonnes. In addition, in 2010, mining reserves totalled about 51,000 tonnes of gold. 26% of the world’s gold is contained in the mining reserves of Australia and South Africa, which for a very long time was the leading gold-producing country, behind North America and Australia. However, in 2007 China took first place, which it has never left since the discovery of major mining operations. In 2010, China produced 13.8% of the world’s gold, Australia produced 10.2%, the United States 9.2%, Russia 7.6%, South Africa 7.6%, and Peru produced 6.8%.
Even if native gold is often used in addition to other precious stones to multiply its benefits tenfold, it has interesting virtues on a psychological level. Each stone is associated with one or more chakras, and native gold is associated with the chakra of the solar plexus, allowing, by placing it on this chakra, to balance the energy of the body and to fill itself with good energies. In addition, combined with Yin energy, native gold can increase the user’s will and self-confidence. This stone also relieves stress and fatigue, and helps to see the good in people.
On a physical level, native gold stone is very often used in cosmetics, especially for skin care. Native gold can be found in moisturizing or sun creams, eye creams (as it is a relaxant), and also in moisturizing lip balms. Native gold acts against the natural aging of the skin by helping cells to renew themselves, and is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting against the oxidation process of the skin that causes aging.