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Exhibit Explores Fascination with Gold through the Centuries

  • Amanda Cassandra

The gold exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History features 700 natural and ornamental pieces of gold, tracing the precious metal's journey from its formation through the mining process to its use in various industries and trades throughout the centuries.

Museum president Ellen Futter says the Gold exhibit is part of an ongoing series that explores the connection between the science and culture of natural materials.

George Milling-Stanley is a manager at the World Gold Council, an association of the world's leading gold producers dedicated to the promotion of gold. He says although 78 % of all gold mined is used for jewelry, the exhibition highlights the multitude of uses for the precious metal.

"The exhibits include the visor from the helmet Neil Armstrong wore when he went to the moon. It looks a beautiful gold color; it is not done for the beauty. It is done for the functionality. It reflects the heat best, it reflects radiation best and it was the safest possible material they could use for those visors for people traveling into space. The fact that gold doesn't react with anything in the environment means it has the most amazing list of medical and scientific uses."

Co-curator Charles Spencer heads the museum's anthropology department. He says gold has amazing natural properties, but its real value comes from society.

Gold is coveted because of its rarity. Scientists say that only 152,000 metric tons of gold have ever been mined since the metal's discovery over six-thousand years ago. In comparison, each year 907 million metric tons of iron are mined.

The remote areas were really settled and developed because of this search for gold and the people who had to supply the materials. The food, the other materials for the miners themselves.

Milling-Stanley says the historical fascination with gold has grown, as more people have been able to afford the precious metal.

"Out of every billion atoms in the world, only five would be gold, if we were to take a representative sample so it is extremely rare. It has this amazing list of unique properties that give it all of these diverse, different functions so that there is something to appeal to every possible culture. It used to be the metal for kings and emperors and gradually has become more available that means that people like you and I can wear gold jewelry. It has become a democratic metal."

The treasures on display include examples of the first gold coins minted in ancient Turkey and the largest nugget of gold ever found in the Western Hemisphere, the "Boot of Cortez," weighing 12 kilograms.

The world's largest accumulation of monetary gold, some 147-billion dollars worth of gold bullion, is held not far from the exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, in the vault of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.

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