The Meaning of Gold Across Cultures

Since the dawn of humanity, gold and people have shared a relationship. Its beauty makes it desirable for jewelry and building materials. Its rarity makes it a valuable trade commodity. A large portion of human history depended on gold for the wealth of nations and citizens. How complicated is our relationship with the king of precious metals?

Gold in The Middle East

Middle Eastern Gold

Image via Flickr by openDemocracy

Most likely, someone found the first shiny example of gold in a body of water, but we can’t be sure. We do know gold refinement predates our use of iron and copper. Ancient Egyptians related the beauty and power of gold with the gods. Gold was called the Skin of the Gods.

The earliest examples of refined gold appear in the Middle East, where civilization began. The oldest examples we have were found in the tombs of Egypt’s Queen Zer and Ur’s Queen Pu-abi, indicating humans began crafting gold pieces as early as three millenniums B.C. The largest collection of gold was found in the tomb of Egypt’s King Tutankhamen.

As early as 700 B.C., artists in the Persian Empire (now Iran) used advanced gold refining processes. Much of this work centered around Zoroastrianism religious pieces. After the Arabs came to this region, stunningly beautiful animal art began to appear.

Gold in China

Gold in China

Image via Flickr by drs2biz

While the Middle East enjoyed a wealth of gold, China was robbed early. Until the Han Dynasty, China was wealthy in gold, but since the fall of this great empire China has suffered from a lack of this resource. Theories on how China’s gold was lost vary. Some believe China never really had much gold, most of what was believed to be gold was actually copper. Others think the Hans buried China’s gold or took it somewhere else.

International trade required gold for centuries. China had to export large quantities of grain, even as citizens were starving, in exchange for goods they had to import. Another setback occurred when the Nationalist Government fell. Most of China’s gold ended up in Taiwan as the Nationalists fled the country. Even now, the ownership and exchange of gold by the Chinese people is highly regulated.

Gold In Europe

European Gold

Image via Flickr by BlatantWorld.com

Europe’s fascination with gold began during the Roman Empire. As in the Middle East, gold was first used in jewelry. It then began showing up in household goods and even furniture in homes of the higher classes. Gradually, gold coins became currency. About 300 years B.C., Roman citizens were recognized by their necklaces, which bore coins emblazoned with the image of the emperor.

As Christianity swept Europe, people began burying gold with their dead. Because of this, very little of Europe’s golden items survived the Middle Ages. Gradually, Europe began using the gold standard of currency. Great Britain adopted it in 1821, followed by the rest of Europe in the 1870’s.

Gold In The Americas

American Gold

Image via Flickr by Joelk75

Even before European settlers sailed to the Americas, Indians had developed advanced gold refining processes like filigree, granulation, inlay and other gold working methods. In fact, when Spanish settlers arrived, the Indians had already developed all of the gold working knowledge possessed by the Spanish.

By this time, the whole world recognized the value of gold in adornments and in currency. By the end of World War I, Europe and everyone except the U.S. had abandoned the gold standard. By the mid-20th Century, the U.S. dollar became the basis for international trade, replacing the longstanding use of gold. Today, gold is used mostly for jewelry, high-tech electronics and as an investment against economic collapse.

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