November 20, 2010

"A Chemist Explains Why Gold Beat Out Lithium, Osmium, Einsteinium."

It had to be gold.

21 comments:

lemondog said...

Gold.... is.... alluring

dbzdak said...

Why does it have to be an element? As opposed to a compound?

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Don't forget the intangibles-- gold is beautiful, and its massiveness tells you you are holding something substantial and permanent.

wv: consters-- the guys selling you gold on the radio.

Meade said...

To me and my brothers, Silver always was good as gold.

edutcher said...

The California Lithium Rush just doesn't have the same sex appeal and I just can't see Shirley Bassey singing, "Einsteiniumfinger, he's the man, the man with the Midas touch".

Nor could Gordon Liddy say, "Os-muim", with quite the same punch.

Meade said...

To me and my brothers, Silver always was good as gold.

You're a good Scout.

The Crack Emcee said...

Gold is obvious - can't do shit with mercury.

elcrain said...

I find it interesting that the author (or editor) of this article written for NPR smart-type people assumes its readers don't know diddle about the Periodic Table.

jayne_cobb said...

There has to be a joke about a time traveling Glenn Beck somewhere in this.

SteveR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SteveR said...

I learned this somewhere around the middle of my junior year in high school. Of course I need NPR and Al Gore to teach me about AGW.

paul a'barge said...

Very cool! I figured as much but still, very cool. Thanks for this link.

traditionalguy said...

Paper money, like balances on deposit in a bank, is only a Chose in Action. That means that it is a right to sue someone that a court will enforce...unless the debtor declares bankruptcy or dies or disappears. How are those confederate gold backed bonds doing today. Gold is it in a period of uncertainty...like right now..

traditionalguy said...

An interesting point is that scripture always identifies our faith as the pure gold that has the lasting value.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

I find it interesting that the author (or editor) of this article written for NPR smart-type people assumes its readers don't know diddle about the Periodic Table.

I was thinking the same thing. And it hardly takes a scientist to explain that gasses, radioactive elements, and things that can't be melted aren't good currency. A middle schooler with wikipedia access could have come up with this.

Joan said...

LOL Lyssa - I've printed this out to share with my 8th graders, who are studying the periodic table of the elements, and wonder what possible use it could have.

Cedarford said...

A more interesting question is why certain metals that were resource-limited and like gold and silver had uses outside currency - did not end up being used as low denomination coins. Notably lead, zinc, and tin.

Copper, resource-limited, ended up being used as currency - in both Europe and Asia where metallurgy advanced. But coexistent tin, lead, iron, zinc didn't.
(Though tin was used in bronze coins). Nor is the claim "they didn't use lead because it was a safety hazard!!" fly. Romans, Chinese, Parisians and so on used lead in drinking water pipes. (As was typical in Europe up to the early 1900s) And one Chinese dynasty DID use lead coinage, but then abandoned it.)

Cedarford said...

One answer is that currency had to be created at a time when you not only had settled agrarian people, but equally powerful and needed for trade work and product of nomadic people that had to move around a lot. So "currency wealth" had to be something both nomadic and agrarian people needed or really liked and also be light or at least portable.

So portable self-transporting livestock and women ended up qualifying as currency. Wampum or scarce conch shells. Copper because it was reasonably scarce had so many alternate uses for both settled people and nomads - and nothing else looked like it. Lead had no use for nomads until firearms came out. They didn't want their women staggering around festooned with 50 lbs of lead discs - as ornamentation and status signalling. A single wafer-thin gold disc or chain of silver made by craftsman with the farmer people was far better a fit when value of various commodities was worked out in trade barter until a common rough consensus on value of each trade item was reached.

In this early history is also reason why certain things were not only rejected as currency but culturally shunned by nomadic peoples that "blessed us" with their religions. You can dry fish and pack them across the desert. But it is difficult to preserve shellfish. Shellfish BAD! Pigs simply are ideal critters for agrarian peoples to transform garbage and ag waste into something useful, but pigs do not herd well. Will damn well stop and root around if they feel like they are hungry even in variants bred to at least stick together and both heard and respond to commands if they aren't feeling like hungry pigs. Nor can they move at the milage goats, sheep, burros, cattle and horse do when Abdul or Moische's tribe was on the move. Pigs bad. No currency. Slow us down! Taboo! Stupid nomad who took and eat pig for traded myrrh and frankencense a bad, bad taboo-violating nomad for slowing us down!

Ralph L said...

We're supposed to take a guy in pink glasses seriously?

Modern pennies are largely zinc. Copper is now too expensive.

Chip Ahoy said...

In my opinion, silver as jewelry is a major pain in the arse.

Silver in ancient Egypt was considerably more rare than gold because it had to be imported whereas gold was available in great quantity mostly from nearby Nubia.

Everybody is familiar with Tutankhamun, thirteenth king of the eighteenth dynasty, because the objects from his tomb are so spectacular, even though the tomb was robbed twice in ancient times and up to 60% of the docketed jewelry is missing. But fewer people know there is only one royal tomb discovered intact undisturbed, that of Psusennes, fourth king of the twenty-first dynasty. Unfortunately the tomb was in much worse condition due to the high humidity of its location, the Faiyum.

Psusennes inner coffin is pure silver, therefore more extraordinary to Egyptians than Tutankhamun's which is pure gold. Even though gold was considered the skin of the gods and silver reacts.

Tutankhamun had a middle and outer coffin of wood layered with gold sheeting along with three nested sarcophagi .

Psusennes had two nested sarcophagi.

His burial mask is gold, as is tutankhamun's mostly gold inlayed with glass and precious and semi-precious stone.

The burial mask of Psusennes is currently on display at the DAM, across the street from my apartment. I have marveled at its craftsmanship half a dozen times. It looks like aluminum foil, actually, except gold. It is very thin. I am perpetually amazed that the people viewing the exhibit do not understand the mask belonged to Psusennes and not to Tutankhamun. I mean, come on. First of all, it says so right there on the placard, and secondly Tutankhamun's burial mask is famously recognizable.

Shirley, every child could spot it right off!

The exhibit starts with objects spread across several galleries that all describe the period immediately before and after Tutankhamun. I must say that each piece is quite famous. At least, I've seen them dozens of times in books. The museum-goer passes through a tent set up to resemble an archaeologists operations area (using common modern objects from World Market) and then on the other side of the tent all of the following galleries contain object relating to king Tut's tomb. Very simple straightforward plan, that, and yet hardly anyone seems to get it the idea.

Here is what I am on about.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

Heh, Joan. I hope that you make them reason it out, first.

Mitch H. said...

Larry Niven once proposed making currency out of nuclear waste, in hopes of increasing the velocity of money - no-one would want to keep radioactive cash in their pockets for fear of getting sick.

Gold in the premodern and early modern eras was not generally an active currency. There wasn't enough gold, and European coinage was generally in silver or copper. "Gold" denominations like marks, pounds and talents were generally notational rather than physical. Silver shillings and copper/bronze pence were what people actually carried in their pockets. A gold mark was something in a ledger somewhere.