Gold During the Primitive Period
(5000 B.C. - 600 B.C.)
Sheba, whose queen brought King Solomon great store (6 metric tons) of gold (I Kings 10:10), corresponds to modern Yemen where ancient eluvial placers may have occurred in association with oxidized zones of copper and lead sulphide deposits. It seems more probable, however, that the Queen of Sheba obtained much of her gold from Punt, which can be equated with the auriferous areas in the countries bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia) and possibly also with Zimbabwe. It was from these areas in Punt that the Egyptian navy in Queen Hatshepsut's time (1503-1482 B.C.) and later brought great stores of gold and stibium (stibnite) to Egypt.
Midian., often considered the Eldorado of the Hebrews, occupies the northernmost coastal district of Hejaz, Saudi Arabia, on the Red Sea and its Gulf of Aqaba. This area apparently abounded in gold in Biblical times, as witnessed by the quotations in Numbers 31:50-54 relating to the spoil of gold taken by the Israelites after the first Midianite war and by the statements in Judges 8:24-27 describing the golden tribute accepted by Gideon after the conquest of Midian. Much of the gold of Midian appears to have come from oxidized gold quartz deposits that were worked to considerable depths in ancient times (Burton, 1979).
The two other sources of gold mentioned in the Old Testament, Uphaz (Jeremiah 10:9; Daniel 10:5) and Parvaim (II Chronicles 3:6) couldn't be identified from any of the references. It seems probable that they were located in the auriferous regions of western Arabia.
The numerous references to gold and silver in the Old Testament attest to the importance of the metals in Biblical times. In the majority of cases when the two precious metals are mentioned together silver comes first, reflecting perhaps a very early period when gold was less valued than silver, a situation perhaps confirmed by the fact that most of the gold in very ancient times came from placers whose dust and nuggets contained only minor amounts of silver. Later, as argentiferous galena deposits were worked (probably in Punt, Arabia, Attica, the Aegean, Asia Minor, Thrace, Macedonia, and elsewhere) silver apparently became plentiful so that by Solomon's time the metal was "nothing accounted of" (I Kings 10:21) and the king "made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones" (I Kings 10:27).
Geological references to gold and silver are relatively rare in the Old Testament. In the book of Job it is stated, "Surely there is a vein for the silver, and a place for gold where they find it" (Job 28: 1), and "As for the earth ... it hath dust of gold" (Job 28:5-6) - quotations that contain, albeit naively, two of the loftiest truths concerning the occurrence of gold and silver, namely in veins and in placers.
There is some evidence from ancient writings and workings that gold placers and residual (oxidized) deposits were exploited sporadically in antiquity in the many islands of the Aegean (Thasos, Samos, Siphnos), in Anatolia (Lydia) and the Troad (Troy), in Thrace, Macedonia, and Arcadia, in the area bordering the southern shore of the Black Sea (Pontus Euxinus), in Cappadocia (central Turkey), in Bactria (upper reaches of the Oxus River), in middle Asia (Tien Shan and Altai Mountains), and perhaps in Dacia (Transylvania). Much gold also appears to have been won in Spain, probably from a variety of deposits and areas (Huelva, Almeria).
India, particularly southern India, has long been known for its aurificity, where in ancient times much gold was won from eluvial and alluvial placers and from the oxidized outcrops of veins. Diodorus Siculus, in his Bibliotheca historica written in the first century B.C., says that in India the earth "contains rich underground veins of many kinds, including many of silver and gold..."
Likewise in China gold was sought and utilized during the early Shang civilization (1800-1027 B.C.) of the Huang-Ho (Yellow) River, the precious metal being obtained principally from placers in the hinterlands of this great river system and possibly also from placers in Mongolia. Mills (1916) suggests that gold mining (placering) was probably introduced into Korea in 1122 B.C. by the followers of Ki-ja, who migrated from China. From Korea, the methods of eluvial and alluvial placering for gold were taken to Japan, probably as early as 660 B.C. (Bromehead, 1942).
Gold was known to the early Amerindians, but the metal was not held in high regard in the period covered in this chapter. Later, during the first centuries of the Christian era, gold assumed much greater importance in the Olmec, Zapotec, Mayan, Aztec, and other civilizations of Mexico and Mesoamerica and in the Inca civilization of South America. Gold was not prized by the Amerindians of Canada and the United States, and the aborigines of Australia seem not to have paid any attention to the precious metal.
To summarize: Gold was probably the first metal known to humankind, and references to it have appeared almost from the birth of writing. All of the first civilizations prized and utilized gold and sought the precious metal in their lands and suzerainties or through trade. References to the geological setting of gold deposits are sparse in the pre-Classical literature, but the most ancient of geological maps known portrays an auriferous region in Egypt.
REFERENCES AND SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
Aitchison, L., 1960. A History of Metals, 2 vols., Macdonald & Evans, London, 647p.
Rafal Swiecki, geological engineer email contact
This document is in the public domain.