All gold that’s ever been found on Earth (or anywhere in the Universe for that matter) originated from collisions of dead stars. Other elements are born within stars themselves, but gold requires a more cataclysmic event (read the study by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics here). The amount of gold created and ejected following a merger of two neutron stars, the dead cores of stars leave behind after exploding as supernovae, could be a large as ten moon masses.
Gold, chemical symbol Au (from the Latin aurum meaning shining dawn), is a precious metal which has been used since antiquity in the production of jewelry, coinage, sculpture, vessels, and as a decoration for buildings, monuments, and statues.
Gold does not corrode and so it became a symbol of immortality and power in many ancient cultures. Its rarity and aesthetic qualities made it an ideal material for ruling classes to demonstrate their power and position. First found at surface level near rivers in Asia Minor such as the Pactolus in Lydia, gold was also mined underground from 2000 BCE by the Egyptians and later by the Romans in Africa, Portugal, and Spain. There is also evidence that the Romans smelted gold particles from ores such as iron pyrites. Easily worked and mixed with other metals such as silver and copper to increase its strength and change its color, gold was used for a wide range of purposes.
Long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, indigenous tribes in central and South America dabbled in mining gold and used it to create ornaments and other decorative artifacts. Native Americans didn’t place much value on gold, and very little evidence exists of any gold mining operations to the level of the ancient Egyptians or the Romans.
When explorers began scouring the New World for riches, King Ferdinand sent them with the directive, “Get gold, humanely if you can, but at all hazards, get gold.” Throughout their travels through the Americas, the Spaniards pursued the fabled city of El Dorado, where gold was as common as sand. Though indigenous tribes such as the Aztec and Inca were content to trade away their gold and give them as presents, their stockpiles weren’t enough to satisfy Spanish gold lust.
The year 1848 would see the American West transformed. Following the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, western territory that would include the future state of California now belonged to the United States. On Jan. 24th of that same year, a few flecks of gold discovered at Sutter’s mill would change the fortunes of an entire country. Forty thousand miners from across the world descended on California in 1849, rushing to work gold claims for their own shot at fortune. A handful of the miners would strike it rich. Some would manage to eke out a living working profitable claims. Others would find themselves empty-handed, returning home or seeking fortunes elsewhere in the west, such as Colorado or Nevada.
Like a moth to flame, the allure of gold draws mankind close. Wars have been fought over gold. Love has been expressed by it. Gold has changed the landscape of civilizations and the world. How would you express humankind’s love of gold? Write a poem (maybe even a ballad) about our pursuit of it.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s a poem from Monica we enjoyed:
She and her mother were born
in October. I am their common gem.
The mother set me in a gold ring
given to the girl when she turned
sixteen. Earrings, too, still adorn
the daughter’s ears, decades later,
especially on the first Mother’s Day
Photo by Pascal Maramis. Creative Commons via Flickr.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland