How Was Gold First Discovered?

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The discovery of gold as a specific, malleable metal probably took place along river banks of Africa and Eurasia but at different times. However, gold flakes have been discovered in Spanish caves dating to about 40,000 B.C. Whether these flakes were distinguished by Paleolithic humans or were incidental products of other activities is unknown.

Because gold is a noble metal, one that is almost entirely non-corrosive and perpetually tarnish-free, and because it is extremely malleable to the point of becoming brittle in its pure form, archaeologists often encounter difficulties dating the metal prior to its amalgamation with other materials. As of 2014, archaeologists assert that gold was almost certainly the first metal to be worked by human hands. It was easily available to early humans in the Paleolithic Era in rivers and streams, especially those around the modern Middle-East. Gold would have been easily recognizable due to its propensity to appear in its pure bright-yellow elemental form.

Gold was first worked through cold hammering, using only a hard hammer-like object to combine, flatten and shape the gold. The temperature at which gold melts is far too high to be reached without a forge. Scholars contest that it would have been made clear very soon that pure gold is far too fragile and brittle for use in tools. Owing to its non-corrosive qualities that many early cultures associated with permanence, it was, however, perfect for aesthetic and ritualistic uses, leading to some of the first metallic jewelry.