Could something else have been gold if it had been chosen before gold was?

posted in: JustPlainCool | 0

Meaning, why did — why was — gold settled upon as the valuable metal; the valuable thing that the societies of Earth primarily used as their tradeable store of value.  Money has utility because it lets the parties involved in a transaction skip the barter phase.  Like in Phenomenon, the guy needs his car back from the mechanic George, but doesn’t have any money; meanwhile, George wants a solar kit installed at his house.  The solution that George proposes is for the would-be customer to help a third party who does know solar installation dig a well that needs digging, and then the solar guy will help install the kit, and George will fix the car.

Money — tradeable value — skips all that.  Obviously.

But the question is, why Gold?  Why was Gold the thing that early societies settled on as a universal means of storing and exchanging value.

Well, it turns out the answer’s actually pretty interesting.  Science like really.  I came across this writeup a few years ago, and some recent reading caused me to go looking for it again.  Fortunately I passed my Google-fu check, and turned it back up.  This time I’ll save it, and also post it as one of those little “oh really” tidbits that come along every now and again to brighten up a few moments.

The short version from the link, which is written by a chemist, is Gold was really the only option because it had a solid form, was workable (malleable and low melting point), wasn’t reactive (silver tarnishes, other possible elements are radioactive), had been discovered, and ‘common’ enough to actually work as the universal tradeable material.  If one runs through the entire periodic table, gold really was the only logical –the only really possible — choice to have been selected.  And, oddly enough for a species that spends a lot of its time not making sense, the right choice won out.

The article’s worth a minute or two.  Enjoy just one more thing that makes you go hmmm.