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When someone open an ancient Egyptian tomb or finds some sort of treasure, things of great archaeological and historical value are usually found, but there is something else there, a lesson for anyone trying to find out the safest investments that are possible, because such pieces, aside from their uniqueness, are still valuable for the intrinsic material of what they are made of.
Maybe you will think that the fact that 5.000-year old gold still holds its value as gold is of no use for you because you are not planning to invest in such a long term, but what was good for the Pharaos may be good for you as well. Melting such artwork and historical items is both illegal and immoral indeed, but suppose for a minute that such constrains didn't exist, and after unearthing them, you make ingots out of the gold and silver found. If you go to the valuables market, you would in principle be able to sell those ingots at the same prices as any modern ingot. There would be no difference. This shows that certain goods or materials are better for truly safer investments; precious metals and stones tend to survive far longer and in far better shape than modern financial instruments. For once, paper documents rarely last more than two centuries under normal environmental conditions. In the case of gold, other noble metals and gems, there is no need for recycling.
There are metals that are more valuable than gold; Platinum is a classical example. However, the market for those metals is far smaller, they are not so available as gold and they don't have the same historic record of value as the mother of all metals. Platinum was thought to be low quality silver just a few centuries ago and nobody paid any attention to it. It is likely that gold was already appreciated a long time ago for two very evident properties:
Gold never degrades: Gold doesn't decompose for environmental reasons like other metals.
People give gold an almost magical value for deeply-rooted reasons: The colour of gold is unique and reminds of the sun; in fact, the reflections of our sun on any golden surface give the metal a glorious quality that cannot be seen anywhere else, and it wouldn't be surprising if ancients thought that they were actually holding a piece of the sun - often seen as a God - when they had anything made of gold in their hands.
Some of the physiochemical properties of gold also baffled men of knowledge since a long time ago, in each case according to the degree of scientific and technological advancement of each time:
Gold resist corrosion: Under normal conditions only the Aqua Regia can dissolve gold; no alkalis or acids even leave a stain o a golden surface.
Gold is very ductile and malleable: No other metal can be crafted quite like it: its texture is different and the way in which it reacts to tools is also. It is very easy to work with it and it should not be surprising that it was used to produce items like dental prosthetics long before plastics became available.
It would be somewhat speculative yet interesting challenge for the science of anthropology to think what would have developed a similar value if our sun had a different colour. If we had a bluish or greenish star it is likely that gold wouldn't have been considered so valuable. But the important thing to consider here is that since gold and other precious material tend not to suffer the same alterations over time that are evident in the case of other goods, these valuables are far better for long-term storage. That is in itself a competitive advantage that gives gold and similar things some more value.
Gold is appreciated and highly regarded in almost every human culture, from the Glorioso archipelago to Inari, and from the Drakensberg to Kautokeino; thus, exchanging gold units for any sort of product or service is relatively easy and any explorer or survivor travelling with gold coins has virtually insured his urban subsistence in any part of the planet. You can't achieve that with banknotes, bills, regular coins, bank accounts, stocks, futures, credit cards or bonds.
Another virtue of gold and similar valuables, but especially this one, is that it is impossible for any government to completely stop its trading: There are so many different places where you can buy or sell gold, even in the black market, that if you get your assets frozen or your government tries to prohibit gold trading for ideological reasons, you will still be able to buy or sell items.
Using economic jargon we would say that gold has an unsurpassable liquidity as a form of money. So, being things as they are, gold is also unsurpassed as a financial survival tool.
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