Its Latin name, aurum, means "glowing dawn." Though extremely rare, it is found on nearly every continent. It is prized above all other metals. It is gold.
With its distinctive combination of qualities, gold may well have been the first metal worked by humans. It was easily visible in stream- and riverbeds; it was easily shaped because it is soft; its alluring luster never grew dull. Over thousands of years, the pursuit of gold launched explorers, built empires and inspired artists. Gold itself became a symbol of wealth, beauty, purity, spirituality and the afterlife.
Today, gold is increasingly difficult to mine, but the demand for gold continues to grow. Gold's high status and value are unsurpassed around the world, its pivotal role in human history unending.
Its Latin name, aurum, means "glowing dawn." Though extremely rare, it is found on nearly every continent. It is prized above all other metals.
Gold, by any standard, is unusual. It resists chemical corrosion and tarnish-attack by acids and oxygen. It is highly reflective and an excellent conductor of electricity. Gold is dense but soft; it can be readily stretched, beaten and molded.
Gold was probably the first metal worked by humans. Gleaming nuggets of gold were easy to find and collect from stream banks, and were easily shaped with simple tools. The oldest worked-gold objects, the products of the ancient Thracian civilization, were made as early as 4400 BC, and were discovered at a burial site in Varna, Bulgaria.
For Spanish explorers and American adventurers, finding the gold was only the beginning. They also had to bring it by sea to their home countries and financial centers, but ocean voyages were extremely dangerous.
For thousands of years, gold has played an important part in human society as a medium of exchange; that is, as money.
Societies developed systems of money, or currencies, to make trade easier and to replace barter systems.
From ancient times to the present day, gold has represented success. Kings, conquerors and captains of industry claimed it as a prize and bestowed it as a precious gift. Today gold is our symbolic reward for cultural achievements.
The idiom "worth its weight in gold" denotes something of immense value. Many commodities throughout history have been worth their equivalent weight in gold--salt, aluminum even black pepper.
Gold is curated by the American Museum of Natural History scientist James D. Webster, Chair and Curator in the Division of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
Gold is designed and produced by the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Exhibition.