Published: 27 Sep 2017

The discovery of gold

Could gold have been the first metal to have been discovered and used? It’s a question that’s been asked very often but never satisfactorily answered.

In the beginning, it’s probable that gold was extracted and processed at the site is was discovered; in later times, it may have been transported to other places. Gold is the same wherever it is found, making it difficult to trace the origin from the artefacts found by archaeologists and anthropologists.

Consider some of the most famous artefacts we know about today: a sun chariot discovered in 1902 in Trundholm, Denmark dates back to the 14th century BC, a 3,200-year-old disc of the heavens from Nebra, near Halle in Germany is believed to originate from the same culture as the sun chariot. In the Bronze Age, people believed that the sun god was also the god of the dead, rising in the east and disappearing into the underground at day’s end, only to be reborn again in the next dawn.

For decades, most archaeological experts believed that the oldest gold artefacts came from the old kingdom of Egypt or Mesopotamia (most of Iraq, and parts of Iran, Syria and Turkey), dating back to the fourth millennium BC. But more recently, the dating of finds from a Copper Age tomb at Varna in Bulgaria – including objects as heavy as 13 pounds – suggest that they were from the fifth millennium, around 4400 BC to 3900 BC.

In 2005, scientists at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, while studying placer gold deposits, also found pieces of rings, chain links and melted pellets in the sand. These objects are in the process of being dated, and have provisionally assigned the 5th millennium BC, making them the oldest gold artefacts, older than those from ancient Egypt.

Gold artefacts from the Bronze Age (roughly 3000 to 1200 BC) have been found in Ireland; among them are crescent-moon shaped collars called lunulae, made from thin sheet of gold with simple engravings. These products are more than 4000 years old! A tomb in Hungary that was opened in 1897 had a skeleton covered entirely in sheet of gold decorated with lions and bulls, usually treated as symbols of power strength and fertility.

Or maybe, as the Incas of central America believed, gold is made of the tears of the sun god.