The Role of Gold in the History of Humanity, Part 1

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Gold should win an Oscar for best performance in the history of humanity. Sometimes it was the protagonist, other times, the villain.
Gold¹ is a chemical element, known in the periodic table by Au. Its name is of Latin origin “aurum” meaning bright. William Shakespeare mentioned in his book, The Merchant of Venice. “Not everything that glisters is gold.” Perhaps he had a Latin soul….

Dynasty 18, reign of Tutankhamun (1332–1323 B.C.)

Dynasty 18, reign of Tutankhamun (1332–1323 B.C.)

It is possible that gold began to be used by the first Middle East civilizations (currently unstable) and it may have been the first metal used by humans. All the Semitic-origin civilizations had gold business: the Sumerians, Hebrews, Assyrians, Akkadians, Phoenicians (Hello Lebanon!), and other people like the Egyptians, the Incas, the Aztecs and various other civilizations.

Gold can be a symbol of the sacred and the profane. In the Bible, in Genesis, already speaks of the existence of gold:

  • “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Genesis 2 10 -15

In the Bible, it says that gold, caused conflict when Aaron built an altar to another god, during the time of waiting for Moses.

  • “So Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.'” Exodus 32
Pendant Tairona, A.D. 900–1600 Pre-Columbian

Pendant Tairona, A.D. 900–1600 Pre-Columbian

Gold of old was associated with the sun. It was always related to politics, religion and social status. For many decades the artisans who worked with gold in the Middle East worked exclusively for kings, princes, priests and people very influential in society (When you use some jewelry in gold, feel important. After all, at that time it was hard to be VIP). Workshops of artisans were in religious temples and castles; artisans could be freemen or slaves.

At this time it arose the custom of wearing earrings, necklaces, bracelets and brooches.

The Gleninsheen Gold Collar, a Bronze Age from Ireland

The Gleninsheen Gold Collar, a Bronze Age from Ireland

It was believed to pierce the ears, to use an earring, would expel all impure substances from the body with the presence of gold. At the end of 2014, an earring stuck in my ear. I had to have surgery to remove it. Could it be that because gold lived in my body for a few weeks, I have nothing unclean in my body?
*** During the year 2016, I will make several posts on gold. Did you like the first?


¹ “Gold” is cognate with similar words in many Germanic languages, deriving via Proto-Germanic *gulþą from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰelh₃- (“to shine, to gleam; to be yellow or green”)

Bibliographic reference: Ouro – Sua história, seus encantos, seu valor – Affonso Romano de S Anna – Editora Salamandra 1989
Images: Inlaid Diadem with Vulture and Cobra. Gold, glass, obsidian, carnelian, malachite, chalcedony, lapis lazuli. Dynasty 18, reign of Tutankhamun (1332–1323 B.C.). Thebes, Valley of the Kings, tomb of Tutankhamun < > Shaman effigy pendant Tairona, A.D. 900–1600 Pre-Columbian Gold and Andean Civilizations <> The Gleninsheen Gold Collar, a Bronze Age from Ireland <>

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