Ikechukwu Modungwo is a student of life and geography, researching quite frequently the topics that invincibly move the world and drives man
The Noble Metal
Almost everyone has some, yet it is one of the rarest of all the world’s metals. It has been estimated that it comprises only 3.5 parts per billion of the world’s crust, yet tens of thousands of people are employed to find it and mine it. Men and women have died for it and empires have risen and fallen with the ebb and flow of this most precious of metals, gold. For thousands of years people have desired it and sought it out esteeming it the most precious of all metals; It is a prized possession in all countries, in all cultures and in all the ages of history. Gold is extraordinary. Throughout the bumpy course of history, people have used it to glorify their temples, to adorn their rulers with splendour, to create things of high value and to make great works of art. Over the centuries, it has been fashioned into coins and jewelleries, and into infinity of other objects, many of which have been transported around the world, buried, lost, and recovered - the metal melted down and re-used. Gold has been traded, stolen, plundered and smuggled all over the globe. There seem to be inherent qualities in this metal which entrance us, which make us want to possess it. People of all races and ranks have given their lives for it and for the wealth and power that it promises to bring. They have travelled around the world to search for it, toiling to win a few precious grains of the metal from river sands, or precariously burrowing beneath the earth to extract it. Even today, gold miners penetrate thousands of metres underground to reach gold bearing strata, extracting thousands of tonnes of materials from which only a few ounces of gold will eventually be recovered, using the most elaborate and complex processes. Until recently, gold was used to glorify the objects and people it adorned. It was also used to make coins, which not only had intrinsic value but could be used to put a value on a vast range of other things, making them exchangeable. Today, gold has a myriad uses; for example, it protects fragile humans when they venture into the freezing waste of space and it ensures the efficiency of innumerable electronic items on which many of us now depend. It is used in medicine for the treatment of cancer, and in architecture it keeps glass-clad buildings cool. It is used in jet engines and on windscreens of aircraft to maintain visibility at altitude. Works of art are created with it and it is still used as an embellishment in a wide range of situations. Gold coins and bullion bars are still used to facilitate the international exchange of goods and services. Above all, it remains the ultimate expression of value and wealth all over the world.
THE SWEAT OF THE SUN.
Gold today, as much as in the past, is a metal which seems to embody the warmth and brightness, the power and the strength, of the sun. The Inca of South America, once skilled finders and miners of gold and consummate metal-smiths, referred to gold as “The Sweat of the Sun”, contrasting its warmth with the coolness of the more common metal silver – “The Tears of the Moon”.
The Ashanti’s, great users and workers of gold, used gold dust as their everyday currency until about a hundred years ago. Dead Chiefs and wealthy citizens were often covered with gold dust and buried. This custom has interesting parallels with the ancient Egyptian burial customs. The Ashanti’s called the metal sika kokoo, meaning “red gold”, an adjective signifying a warm, powerful material. The chemical symbol for gold, Au, derived from the Latin word aurum, is linked to early Indo-European words that mean “Dawn of Day”, once again emphasizing the qualities of warmth and light. Gold and the sun, the warmth of gold and life itself, seem inextricably linked in the thinking of many cultures. The word “golden” is often applied to the things we value most or most desire. One powerful Western myth is that of the Golden Age, a time of peace and plenty, which existed before the ever-accelerating decay of human society began. The golden rule, the golden section and the golden age – gold has become a metaphor for all that is best.
THE PUREST METAL.
It cannot be guessed with accuracy the exact time when people first began to seek out gold and make use of it, but it is probable that, in some parts of the world at least, it was the first metal they knew. This must have been due to two basic characteristics of gold. First, it can be found as a native, or pure, metal, that is, as nuggets or as gold dust rather than combined with other elements from which it must be extracted. Second, gold is completely resistant to corrosion and oxidation, which cause other metals, such as tin and iron, to weaken, corrode, and eventually disintegrate. This means that however long it may lie in a river or rest on the surface of the soil, its natural brightness and colour are unaltered and undiminished, its rich glow remains unclouded. In many parts of the world, the glittering metal is there for the finding; unlike many other metals, gold does not need to be smelted. Deep in the earth, native gold is enclosed within deposits of extremely hard quartz. It may appear in a variety of forms within the rock, sometimes shaped like delicate leaves or strange plants, at other times as sharp-edged crystals or tiny flakes. However after millions of years of weathering by water and wind, and by the alternation of cold and heat, the gold is gradually set free. As the surrounding rock almost imperceptibly disintegrates, the metal is separated from it. In this way, lumps of the pure gold are eventually carried towards the surface soil or are washed down in the sand and gravel of streams and rivers. Some of these lumps of gold may be as large as a fist, but most are little bigger than tiny grains or flakes. Thus the metal is released and distributed away from the geological strata in which it was first formed and is made accessible to those who can recognize its presence. Gold, the noblest of metals, is highly resistant to chemical attack, that is to say, it is not easily altered so its appearance always remain the same. It does not combine with oxygen, except in the most unusual of circumstances, or with sulphur. It is unaffected by chlorine, bromine, and fluorine, which would corrode other metals, and remains chemically unchanged by any single acid. The bright glint of a nugget protruding from a bank of gravel at a stream’s edge, or the shimmer of gold dust amidst a layer of sand, would have attracted the attention of early humans. It is due to this characteristics that objects made from gold, such as those recovered from the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen, were as bright and glowing on the day they were found as when they were buried over three thousand years before. Today, this same incorruptibility of gold remains one of its most precious and useful physical attributes, favouring its use in many circumstances where lesser metals would corrode and decay.