3

Where can I find an approximate chart of total mass of metallic gold in possession of humans by centuries starting with Neolithic?

I also would like to see this detailed by civilization/culture.

3
  • 3
    I don't know if such a chart exists, but I'd love to see it too!
    – Joe
    Nov 16 '12 at 6:00
  • OK, we know who the alien invaders in our midst are now. Nov 16 '12 at 12:34
  • 3
    How is this answerable??? Starting with the Neolithic?! Nov 16 '12 at 13:46
12

I know, it's an ancient question, but maybe somebody might still be interested in some ballpark estimates. According to the World Gold Council about 200,000 tonnes of gold have been mined in human history. Most of it in the last 70 years. Almost half of it exists in form of jewellry.

The best estimates currently available suggest that around 197,576 tonnes of gold has been mined throughout history, of which around two-thirds has been mined since 1950. And since gold is virtually indestructible, this means that almost all of this metal is still around in one form or another. If every single ounce of this gold were placed next to each other, the resulting cube of pure gold would only measure around 21 metres on each side.

Total above-ground stocks (end-2019): 197,576 tonnes

Jewellery: 92,947 tonnes, 47.0%
Private investment: 42,619 tonnes, 21.6%
Official Holdings: 33,919 tonnes, 17.2%
Other: 28,090 tonnes, 14.2%
Below ground reserves: 54,000 tonnes

Source: Metals Focus; GFMS, Thomson Reuters, US Geological Survey, World Gold Council

How much gold has been mined?

6

I found some relevant information in the following reference:

R W Boyle: Gold: History and Genesis of Deposits

The estimates only go up to 1985, when the total gold mined worldwide would fit into an 18.5m cube. Of this,

2% was mined prior to 1492;

8% between then and 1800;

20% from 1801 to 1900, and

70% 1901-1985.

The figures are rough estimates according to the author, but show how rare gold was in ancient times.

1

The wonderful thing about gold is that it is completely indestructible and imperishable. The gold we see today is the same gold that existed bilions of years ago. The same goes for silver. Even though gold has a boiling point, the vapor created is still gold.

A count of gold in possession by humans would be impossible. There have been large ships of gold that have sank to the bottom of the ocean during the Spanish Conquests for example. Also, such chart would require that every human possesing gold throughout the history of the world would have had to reveil it. Humans are fallible and have their own thoughts, so there is a very likely chance that a lot of these gold census reports, if such reports even existed, lack a few people due to them not wanting to participate.

5
  • 1
    Exactly my thoughts. There is no possible way to get any real numbers. Nov 19 '12 at 2:58
  • 1
    I think it can be safely assumed that the portion of gold possessed by private persons now is a tiny portion of that possessed by states and banks which is counted by hundreds of tons. Even if somebody has much gold, he is likely to store it in a bank. I think this was the case for ancient ages as well. The gold was stored in the temples and in the king's treasury.
    – Anixx
    Nov 19 '12 at 5:05
  • The amount of gold in possession of ancient civilizations can be found by excavating the graves.
    – Anixx
    Nov 19 '12 at 5:10
  • 6
    Excavation of graves only measures the gold in possession of ancient civilizations that didn't get stolen/inherited/sold to modern civilizations, and doesn't measure graves that haven't been discovered/excavated. Thus it is a small fraction.
    – MCW
    Nov 19 '12 at 18:26
  • 1
    First, that gold is quite inert is irrelevant. Gold lost in a sunken ship is gone just as completely as iron lost to rust. Both can be recovered, but only at a cost which makes the process usually not worthwhile. Second, you're falling into the fallacy that because perfect knowledge is unavailable, no answer can be given. In fact, there's a lot of information on gold mining over the centuries and a reasonable estimate of the gold stock could be generated.
    – Mark Olson
    Mar 12 at 13:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.