History of Gold
Gold was probably the first metal known to the early hominids that, on finding it as nuggets and spangles in the soils and stream sands, were undoubtedly attracted by its intrinsic beauty, great malleability, and virtual indestructibility. As tribal development progressed through the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic ages, and as people congregated into civilized centers, the metal appears to have taken on a sacred quality because of its enduring character (immortality), being worn initially probably as amulets and later fashioned into religious objects (idols).
Early references to the first discovery of gold are essentially legendary or mythical. Thus, Cadmus, the Phoenician, is said by some early writers to have discovered gold; others say that Thoas, a Taurian king, first found the precious metal in the Pangaeus Mountains in Thrace. The Chronicum Alexandrinum (A.D. 628) ascribes its discovery to Mercury (Roman god of merchandise and merchants), the son of Jupiter, or to Pisus, king of Italy, who, quitting his own country went into Egypt. Similar legends and myths concerning the initial discovery of gold are extant in the ancient literature of the Hindus (the Vedas) as well as in that of the ancient Chinese and other peoples. In fact, the discovery of the element we call gold is lost in antiquity.
The principal source of gold in primitive times was undoubtedly stream placers, although there is considerable evidence in certain gold belts (e.g., Egypt and India) that alluvial deposits, auriferous gossans, and the near surface parts of friable (oxidized) veins were mined. The eluvial and alluvial placers were worked in the crudest manner by panning or the simplest form of sluicing.
The auriferous gossans and exposed parts of friable veins were simply grubbed out, trenched, or pitted along their strike length with the crudest of tools-stone hammers, antler picks, and bone and wooden shovels. Only rarely were added, simple shafts, and drifts attempted and then only in the soft rocks of the zone of oxidation. Fire-setting was probably employed by the ancient Egyptians, Semites, Indians, and others to break up the hard quartz veins, although there is only limited evidence to support this contention. Size or grade of deposit made little difference; both small and large deposits that showed free gold visibly or in the pan were worked, a circumstance permitted by the low cost of maintenance of slaves, convicts, and prisoners of war who were assigned by those in authority to the gold placers and mines.