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Milestones in the history of gold

4000 BCE

Gold starts to be used in Central and Eastern Europe.

3000 BCE

Gold starts to be used in ancient Egypt and Sumer.

2500 BCE

The First-Dynasty pharaoh Djoser’s grave goods include gold jewellery, one of the oldest Egyptian discoveries of this kind.

1500 BCE

The first references to gold being used in international trade come from ancient Egypt. The first coins, called shekels, also appear.

1350 BCE

The ancient Babylonians begin employing methods – most notably the touchstone – to determine the purity of gold.

1091 BCE

In ancient China, gold becomes an officially recognised form of money.


Croesus, the king of Lydia (a region in Asia Minor), begins minting the first gold coins.

58 BCE

Julius Caesar is able to pay off his debts in Rome with gold from Gallic mines.


The Romans began minting a new gold coin called the aureus (golden).

780 AD

Charlemagne’s currency reform introduces a new gold coin into Central Europe – the libra (pound).


Venice becomes the main market for gold.


The famous gold ducat starts to be minted in Venice and remains the most widely used coinage in Europe for the next 500 years.


King Edward III of England has a gold coin, the florin, minted. This is soon replaced by the noble.


The navigator Christopher Columbus discovers the American continent. The Spanish king Ferdinand of Aragon gives the blunt command to “...get the gold!”


The famous scientist Isaac Newton, in his capacity as Warden of the Royal Mint in London, sets the price of gold, which is then fixed for more than 200 years.


The first American coin is struck by Ephraim Brasher.


The Coinage Act establishes a bimetallic monetary standard (i.e. the circulation of gold and silver coins) in the US and defines the US dollar as equivalent to 24.75 grains (1.6 grams) of gold and 371.25 grains (24.13 grams) of silver.


The first gold rush in the USA erupts in North Carolina, where the local mines become the chief source of gold for the Philadelphia Mint, the country’s main mint facility.


The gold rush in California begins.


The gold prospector Edward Hammond Hargraves discovers gold in New South Wales, Australia.


The Comstock Lode of silver ore is discovered in Nevada. Nevada is granted statehood five years later because of its gold and silver deposits.


George Harrison discovers large gold deposits near Johannesburg, South Africa.


The physicists Robert and William Forrest and the chemist John MacArthur, all from Scotland, invent the cyanidation process, enabling gold to be extracted from rock with cyanide.


Two prospectors discover gold in Alaska’s Klondike River, triggering the “gold rush of the century”.


The gold standard is enacted in the US, making the US dollar convertible into gold.


The Engelhard Corporation introduces an organic medium that makes it possible to print gold on surfaces. It is initially used for decorative purposes. Other applications are subsequently found for it.


In Egypt, Howard Carter discovers Tutankhamun’s largely intact tomb from the mid-14th century BC. The pharao's burial equipment still today represents a unique collection of jewellery and gold objects.


French doctors discover that gold has beneficial effects in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.


US president Franklin D Roosevelt bans the export of gold and the convertibility of the dollar into gold.


US president Franklin D Roosevelt changes the price of gold to $35 per troy ounce.


The Bretton Woods Agreements establish the international gold standard, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.


AT&T introduces the first transistor, using gold to make the contacts.


The first laser is developed. It uses a gold-coated mirror to make it more effective.


Nevada becomes the largest gold supplier in the US.


The special sunglasses worn by the Apollo 11 astronauts are partially gold-plated.


The US is taken off the gold standard. From then on, the price of gold is left to market forces. In June 1973, the price of gold soars to $120 per troy ounce.


The US administration lifts all restrictions on the individual ownership of gold.


The Gold Institute in Washington, DC is established as an institution dedicated to gathering all available information relating to gold.


On 21 January, the price of gold reaches an all-time high of $850 per troy ounce.


Gold-plated compact discs arrive on the market.


In the automotive industry, gold is used in the development and manufacture of airbags after it proves to be the most reliable material.


The Mars Global Surveyor, a satellite with a special gold-plated telescope, is sent to Mars.


A new currency, the euro, is established in Europe. However, the newly formed European Central Bank continues to hold 15% of its reserves in gold.


In Hawaii, American astronomers use special twin telescopes with gold components to observe the surfaces of Neptune and Uranus.


In the aftermath of terrorist attack on New York and the subsequent sharp decline on global stock markets, investors reset their sights on gold as the one true safe haven for their investments.

2006 – 2014

Gold once again becomes a target for investment and hoarding. In 2006, the price of gold exceeds $600 per troy ounce, before breaking through the $1,000 mark in 2008 and soaring to an all-time high of $1,920.80 in intraday trading on 5 September 2012. By 2014, the price stabilises at around $1,300 per troy ounce.

2013 – 2020

Gold on the move. The more terrorism and the global economic crisis loom large, the less inclined the central banks – and countries in general – are to trust each other. The growing realisation that countries enjoy more certainty if they hold their own gold at home or keep it under better control paves the way, in 2013, for the rather cagey announcement of a plan to move the German Bundesbank’s gold reserves from their current Cold War safe haven in the vaults of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York back to Germany. The initial phase involves the transfer of 300 tonnes of metal. By the end of 2020, all German monetary gold stored in the US is to be shipped out. The Germans also want to retrieve 347 tonnes of gold currently deposited in France. Their thinking is that gold is only safe if it is kept and tested for purity at home. Germany is thought to have 3,400 tonnes of gold, most of it held abroad. In the spring of 2014, the Central Bank of Ukraine, fearing a war from the East, charters flights to move all its monetary gold to the above-mentioned New York bank. In the first half of June 2014, armed insurgents of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) loot all the gold reserves of the Central Bank of Iraq held in its regional office in Mosul. It is not known what this gold was used for. At the end of June, they declare a new “caliphate” (state). The fact that the militants absconded with these deposits shows that gold continues to play a vital role, especially in the warring and upheaval experienced by countries that are constantly smouldering with uncertainty after being artificially carved out by superpowers in the 20th century. We may yet see more waves in which gold in monetary reserves is relocated following a loss of confidence in major currencies and in international and national monetary institutions.