The Dark History of Gold Began With Smashed Stars

The discovery of a single gold nugget can set off a chain reaction of historic proportions.

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No element is simultaneously as trivial to our survival but as vital to human history as gold. Fortunes have been made. Armies have been raised. Empires have been built. Not bad considering that all of the gold ever mined -- all 165,000 metric tons of it -- if melted down would fill just three and a half Olympic swimming pools.

Gold is a precious metal associated with power and privilege, two virtues that historically have had absolutely nothing to do with mining or the gold trade. Even today, gold mining is a profession relegated to the world's poorest, often operating in illegal mines that pose a threat to their health and the environment.

 Gold has always had a transformative power and usually not for the better. Learn how gold and gold mining has shaped human history.

Watch VIDEO: How Gold Mining Works