Precious metals like gold interpret a designer’s artistic vision. Along with platinum, gold in its many karat weights and colors gives lasting form to fine jewelry. Its history is long and fascinating, but often jewelers know little of gold’s primeval origins.
Ancient records help us to go back in time to the earliest discoveries of gold. Historians look to 2600 B.C. for evidence of gold’s first discovery by ancient Mesopotamians who used it to fashion some of the world’s first gold jewelry. Then, a millennium later, in 1223 B.C., we witness gold being used abundantly in the construction of legendary Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Modern Era Gold
The lure of gold prospecting captured the imagination of early 20th century Americans with the film Gold is Where You Find It (1938). The then popular dramatic film detailed colorful adventurers in the California gold rush of 1848-1859.
That title is more than a catchy phrase. Turns out, gold has been harvested around the globe. Wherever it may be found, it is usually discovered embedded in quartz veins or in placer stream gravel. The placer deposits were where prospectors panned for gold in the Wild West. The western slope of the Sierra Madre Mountains in California was famed for their gold deposits during the height of the gold rush. Recovery of gold continued there all the way up to the 1970s. South Dakota yielded over 40 million ounces during its heyday spanning 125 years from the time of America’s early gold rush. Canada’s Dawson City in the Yukon is a difficult region to mine, yet it has produced 12.7 million ounces – an important gold source.
Scouting the World
Locales across the globe can turn up gold. Some of the largest producers of gold are in South India (also the largest consumer of gold) and South Africa. Nevada accounts for more than 80% of US gold production. Indonesia, Western Australia, and Peru are top global contenders too.
Oddly enough, the island nation of Papua, New Guinea has produced significant gold since mining began there in 1997.
We probably never knew that in the 13th century, Japan was called ‘land of gold’ owing to its lavish gold on display throughout the King’s palaces. They got the gold from the Sumitomo Mining Company. Thanks to Japan’s exceptional volcanic geology, the land produced high concentrations of gold.
And over in Mongolia
But one of the most extraordinary modern day gold sources is nowhere other than Mongolia. As in the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is the largest, albeit coldest of any desert in Asia, and is the world’s 5th largest desert.
Situated some 50 miles from China’s border lies the Oyu Tolgoi mine, (called Turquoise Hill) an ambitious open pit and underground mining operation. Its production facility is one of the world’s largest known copper, silver, and gold sites. Open pit mining commenced in 2011. It is considered one of the most modern, conservation-minded, and efficient mining operations with deposits containing about 1.7 million ounces of gold (48,000kg) plus 2.7 tons of copper.
Operating 24 hours a day with 3 shifts, Oyu Tolgoi mine became the largest private employer in Mongolia, employing thousands of miners. The mining group, Rio Tinto, who partially owns Oyu Tolgoi along with the Mongolian government intends to employ mostly Mongolian citizens in its workforce.
Oyu Tolgoi mine is the largest financial undertaking in Mongolia’s history. Its success should have an immense impact on the country’s inhabitants. Just two decades back, the region of Ömnögovi, Mongolia was the least populated province in the country. Today, it’s become the hub for those seeking more formal, structured employment.
By 2011, it boasted the fastest growing economy in the world, earning the moniker Minegolia.
But the enormous boon to the economy was not without environmental concerns. Mining production uses enormous amounts of water, more than 1B gallons of water per month. While the human population is sparse, about 3 persons per square mile, they are traditionally nomads raising cattle. This area is also considered a critical habitat for a half dozen endangered and threatened wildlife species found nowhere else in the world.
The herders worried that the mine was draining the area’s water supply. So, the mine adapted some of the most arduous water conservation practices in the world. Today, all water used at the mine is fully reused until it is lost through evaporation so as not to jeopardize the delicate natural balance of the herder’s domain that would obstruct their livelihoods.
It’s yet to be determined what the future for the nomadic peoples of the region will look like. There are compromises and adjustments to be made with the nomadic tribes who’ve moved around this vast terrain for thousands of years. For now, those in the region are seeing a true landscape of coexistence for those mining and those herding livestock. Herders, adept at coping with the harsh desert climate, have seen rising numbers of livestock, suggesting that symbiosis for both is possible.