Gold (Au), chemical element, a dense lustrous yellow precious metal of Group 11 (Ib), Period 6, of the periodic table. Gold has several qualities that have made it exceptionally valuable throughout history. It is attractive in colour and brightness, durable to the point of virtual indestructibility, highly malleable, and usually found in nature in a comparatively pure form. The history of gold is unequaled by that of any other metal because of its perceived value from earliest times.
Properties, occurrences, and uses
Gold is one of the densest of all metals. It is a good conductor of heat and electricity. It is also soft and the most malleable and ductile of the elements; an ounce (28 grams) can be beaten out to 187 square feet (about 17 square metres) in extremely thin sheets called gold leaf.
Because gold is visually pleasing and workable and does not tarnish or corrode, it was one of the first metals to attract human attention. Examples of elaborate gold workmanship, many in nearly perfect condition, survive from ancient Egyptian, Minoan, Assyrian, and Etruscan artisans, and gold continues to be a highly favoured material out of which to craft jewelry and other decorative objects. (see metalwork; goldwork.)
Because of its unique qualities, gold has been the one material that is universally accepted in exchange for goods and services. In the form of coins or bullion, gold has occasionally played a major role as a high-denomination currency, although silver was generally the standard medium of payments in the world’s trading systems. Gold began to serve as backing for paper-currency systems when they became widespread in the 19th century, and from the 1870s until World War I the gold standard was the basis for the world’s currencies. Although gold’s official role in the international monetary system had come to an end by the 1970s, the metal remains a highly regarded reserve asset, and approximately 45 percent of all the world’s gold is held by governments and central banks for this purpose. Gold is still accepted by all nations as a medium of international payment.
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