Where Does Gold Come From?

Origins of Gold

Gold in its natural state There’s something about gold that we find irresistible. This soft, shiny metal has formed an integral part of our monetary system for thousands of years, as well as having a huge importance in jewellery and, more recently, playing an important role in medicine and everyday technology.

The question of where exactly it comes from has always been a subject of intrigue. From stories of leprechauns to King Midas, people have been fascinated by gold and its origins. Sir Isaac Newton, the man credited with the discovery of gravity, devoted a large part of his career to alchemy, with a particular determination to create gold from lead.

It’s a question that can be understood in a number of ways, with a variety of answers. The question of where gold comes from or exists can be answered in terms of its presence on a cosmic level, right down to its molecular presence in our very own bodies.

Read about gold's chemical properties.

The accepted theory is that gold in fact comes from space, created in exploding stars before falling down to earth in meteorite showers. As crazy as it sounds, this theory is widely acknowledged to be true and explains the relative proximity of the metal to the earth’s surface.

Its scarcity on our planet plays a major part in its value and popularity and although we typically have to look hard to find it, the truth is that it exists pretty much everywhere, albeit in minuscule quantities.

Gold exists in the sea, and not just in the form of sunken treasure. Approximately 20 million tonnes of the yellow metal can be found in the world’s oceans, making it the largest store of gold on the planet. However its supply is so diluted that it is, as yet, impossible to harvest the precious metal from the sea. Gold even exists in the human body. The average human contains around 0.2 mg of gold. Again, so small is the quantity of gold in our bodies that we can’t consider ourselves a viable source.

To put it into perspective, it would take the gold from roughly 155,000 people to make a gold Britannia!

Geography of Gold

Geographically speaking, there are some countries where gold is much easier to find than others.

Many countries in Africa and South America are particularly rich in gold. South Africa is the largest provider in history, with an astonishing 40% of all the gold ever mined coming from the resource-rich country. South Africa is still a large source for the yellow metal, although it no longer leads world production, having fallen behind the likes of China, Australia and Russia in recent years.

Below is a table of gold production by country for 2015.

Gold Production (tonnes)

Where does gold come from?

The total amount mined last year was around 3,000 tonnes. Although that sounds like a lot, gold is a very dense metal and 3,000 tonnes really doesn’t go very far amongst the 7 billion people living on the planet. If every person was given an equal share of the gold mined last year, they would each receive 0.00043g. At the time of writing, that would be worth around £0.01. If all the gold produced last year was put together, it could make a block measuring around 5.4 cubic metres.

Read our article 'How much gold is there in the world?'

What’s more, gold production is widely believed to be past its peak and, after thousands of years of digging for our favourite metal, it is getting harder and harder to find. Estimates that there are only around twenty years’ worth of gold left under the ground are generally believed to be true, highlighting the extent to which this really is a precious commodity.

It is so precious, in fact, that some nations are apparently already planning ahead for the days when there is no gold left to be mined from the earth’s crust.

Although it hasn't happened yet, some governments have plans in place to start mining gold, amongst other minerals, from space! Gold exists in enormous quantities in space, offering huge potential rewards for the first nation that manages to successfully bring any back from the asteroids rich in the metal. Luxembourg have shown a particular interest, however with the astronomical costs and logistical difficulties involved in such an operation, space mines are unlikely to become a reality too soon.

For the time being then, despite existing all around us at a molecular level, gold will remain incredibly rare and difficult to find. For the foreseeable future, it can only be mined in small quantities every year from certain locations around the globe. It is this rarity that gives the metal its appeal and, most importantly, its intrinsic value, making it a valuable long term investment. When we look deeper into the origins of the metal we can see why it has always been equated with wealth and why so many investors trust it to not lose its value.

For more information about investing in precious metals, click here.