The sweat of the sun, the breath of god: Gold through the centuries

Whether you're a gold bear or gold bull, Ben Bernanke or Ron Paul, there is no questioning the unique role that gold has played in human history.

From what are now Israeli hills during the Copper Age to the Varna Necropolis in the 4th millennium, from the Egyptian pharaohs to the Spanish conquistadors, the allure of gold – its powerful affect on us – has been consistent and unmistakable.

The Aztecs called gold "the sweat of the sun."

And the Egyptians: "the breath of god."

To display his imperial glory, Napoleon gilded Paris in gold. Hitler sought to control all of Europe's gold as support for his "1000-year Reich."

Now, at the outset of the 21st Century, with gold miners on their knees as even the great gold bulls are filled with doubt, this may be an appropriate moment to look at the precious metal with a touch of historical context.

Here are some of the statistics gold has racked up over the centuries, courtesy of our friends at the World Gold Council, whose industry insight is available to all at


The atomic number of gold, which means there are 79 protons in the nucleus of every atom of gold.

The 40,000 miners who joined the California Gold Rush in 1849 were called “49ers”. Only a very few ever got rich.

One ounce of gold can be stretched to a length of 50 miles; the resulting wire would be just five microns wide.

Million – the number of times that all of the existing gold in the world, turned into 5 micron wire, could wrap around the planet.

One ounce of pure gold could be hammered into a single sheet nine metres square.

Gold melts at 1064 degrees centigrade.

…And only boils at 2808 degrees centigrade.

This is the total number of tonnes of gold mined since the beginning of civilisation.

… all of which would fit into a crate of 21 metres cubed.

Over 90 percent of the world’s gold has been mined since the California Gold Rush.

million people worldwide depend on gold mining for their livelihood.

The number of grams in a troy ounce of gold.

The number of troy ounces in a “London Good Delivery Bar”.

Julius Caesar gave two hundred gold coins to each of his soldiers from the spoils of war in defeating Gaul.

Fort Knox holds 4,600 tonnes of gold.

And the US Federal Reserve holds 6,200.

The temperature of the human body is 37 degrees centigrade. Because of gold’s unique conductivity, gold jewellery rapidly matches your body’s heat, becoming part of you.

It is rarer to find a one ounce nugget of gold than a five carat diamond.

The percentage of gold mined today that becomes jewellery.

The % increase in the price of gold from Dec 2000 to March 2013.

The number of parts per thousand of pure gold in 18 carat gold.

In 95 BC, Chinese Emperor Hsiao Wu I minted gold commemorative piece to celebrate the sighting of a unicorn.

The largest gold coin ever minted, a 2007 Canadian $1,000,000 Maple Leaf is 53cm in diameter.

Howard Carter made his famous “tiny breach of the top left hand corner of the doorway” to reveal the first glimpse of Tutankhamun’s tomb on 26 November 1922.

Even at only 10 parts of gold per quadrillion, the world’s oceans are estimated to hold up to 15,000 tonnes of gold.

The largest ever true gold nugget weighted 2316 troy ounces when found at Moliagul in Australia in 1869. It was called the “Welcome Stranger”.

In March 2013, the SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) fund, a World Gold Council sponsored exchange traded fund, held around US$63 billion assets under management.'

 Check out more from the World Gold Council at