Our Primal Instinct for Gold

The comments below are an edited and abridged synopsis of an article by Dominic Frisby

Gold was used for personal adornment as early as 40,000 years ago, the earliest example of human use of any kind of metal. Gold, as a symbol of beauty, power and status, also indicated reproductive fitness: “Look at me, I have access to this rare, shiny substance.”

Our Primal Instinct for Gold - BullionBuzz - Nick's Top Six
A cube of gold coin exhibited in the museum in Bodrum Castle

What often goes unmentioned is our instinct for beauty. What we find beautiful is also often good for us in some way. We are instinctively alarmed by things that are dangerous but things that aid our survival we find beautiful: a fit and healthy potential mate, an open landscape, varied animal and plant life, good visibility and shelter. And we find gold beautiful.

The experience of beauty, whether derived from nature, art or music, correlates with activity in the emotional brain. Beauty has long been associated by philosophers with truth and purity—also qualities associated with gold. Our instinct for gold and the emotions it inspires are basic. There has not been a culture in history that did not appreciate gold. It is a primal instinct.

Even in prehistory gold was performing the role it always has and always will: to store, display and exchange value. Given its characteristics—beautiful, eternal, immutable—it is no surprise that gold found special status at the dawn of civilization. Gold occupies a place in the history of almost every ancient culture, the most valuable of all metals. As money, it was at the core of all their economies, however primitive.

Today, kings and queens wear gold to authenticate their status. The young student gets a gold star, the athlete a gold medal. It is a symbol of achievement. Because of gold’s imperishable characteristics many imbued it with divine qualities, and it is forever associated with the eternal, the permanent and the incorruptible.