Ancient and medieval gold mining: battles for the sun metal - Golden Way Group

Ancient and medieval gold mining: battles for the sun metal

Gold is one of the essential material values. And such fame it received not today or even yesterday. According to archaeologists, people discovered this metal in ancient times, and every year more and more new finds postpone the date of the first acquaintance with gold by thousands of years ago.

Not so long ago, people believed that the ancient Greeks were the first who started mining for gold. But over time, evidence was found that people already knew its value in the days of the Ancient Kingdom of Egypt.

At the same time, finds of burials in Altai show that gold was found even in the Mesolithic times, and this is 40-60 thousand years ago! But at that time, people didn’t talk about pure gold: pieces of jewelry from ancient Altai tombs contain up to 45% of silver. But the main thing is that people already knew what gold was, and this metal was of value to them.


However, we also cannot say that pure gold was extracted in Ancient Egypt. The ancient world leader in gold mining, Egypt, began to separate gold from other metals only in the 21st century BC. And products made of pure gold became in use after 12 centuries.

At the same time, gold began to be in demand in the East. India and China also boast a centuries-old tradition of using gold in everyday life and the economy.

But the Sumerians in their cuneiforms described in detail the process of gold mining and the legend associated with it. From ancient tablets, archaeologists learned that the Sumerians learned about gold from extraterrestrial civilizations – the Anunnaki, who taught people to mine it in deep mines. In some way, this legend is confirmed by the mines themselves, discovered on the ancient Sumerian kingdom’s territory.

Gold mining in ancient times?

Scientists believe that the discovery of gold happened by chance: ancient people, who learned how to extract and process iron, discovered bright and malleable nuggets of gold during the development of iron ore. Another opinion was that the first source of gold was the sand of rivers, from which ancient people picked grains of sparkling metal.

Most likely, both ideas are true. But purposeful gold mining appeared in ancient Egypt. Scientists have calculated that by the 21st century BC, more than 920 tons of metal were mined here.

At that time, slave labor played a major role in gold mining: primitive mining methods were used, it took a truly titanic number of hours of work to hollow gold out of the rock. And they mined gold mainly from the richest and closest to the surface of the earth deposits in the area of one of the tributaries of the Nile River.

The ancient Greeks, and then the Romans, improved the gold mining process. They used two ways to extract gold:

  • Washing of sands containing gold with sheepskins is one of the oldest methods. By the way, it became the source for the myth of the Golden Fleece because, during the filtration of the sands, light particles of quartz were washed out with water, and heavier grains of gold sank and got entangled in the wool.
  • Extraction of ore with fire, vinegar, and water was a method that has become generally available since the Egyptian kingdom. It was also used later, until the collapse of the Roman Empire. In particular, the Greeks used the technique of rapid heating of gold-bearing rocks and then cooling them quickly. And the Romans used high-pressure pumps to break up dense rocks.

Ancient and medieval gold mining: battles for the sun metal

Medieval methods: decline and magic

In the Middle Ages, mining technologies developed by the Egyptians and Romans were irretrievably lost. Accordingly, the volume of gold mining also decreased. If we compare the total volume of gold that was mined in Europe during ten centuries, from the 5th to the 15th centuries, it was 2.5 times less than in the last years of the existence of the Roman Empire, even despite the period of its decline.

The region of Moravia – the territory of the modern Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary – was considered the main mine in Europe. Here, gold was mined in the same way as tens of centuries before: by washing from gold-bearing sand. But this deposit did not last long either.

However, scientists of the Middle Ages did not give up hope of inventing a chemical method for converting other metals into gold, primarily from mercury. A particular science was devoted to this – alchemy. However, along with scientific methods, magical rituals were actively used. And, of course, there is no documentary evidence that at least one alchemist managed to turn another metal into gold.

Another attempt to renew the gold reserves in the Middle Ages was made already in the Age of Great Discoveries. After the Portuguese sailors discovered the lands of Africa and Guinea, gold ore mining began in the newly created colonies on these territories. But the real volume of gold at that time was still negligible.

The turning point was the discovery of the New World – since then, gold mining began to gain pace again, and methods of processing gold ore began to improve. The main locations of the mines were Mexico and South America, where the extraction of sun metal was previously carried out by local tribes. The conquistadors provided Europe, and above all Spain, with gold in the amount of 40% of all gold mining on the planet at that time.

And in the 17th-18th centuries, new players appeared in the gold market – Brazil with its Ouro Preto deposit and Russia, where gold was found in the Urals.

The history of gold mining is fascinating. It is filled with myths and legends. Since the Iron Age, people were striving for this shiny and beautiful metal and made wonderful things from it – jewelry, ritual and household items, and, of course, money. In the history of gold mining, there were “golden” ages and “dark times”. And although modern technologies are much developed now, the difference between old techniques and modern ones is still not striking.

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