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Heymatt: How did gold become the “metal of choice”? Even back in the ancient days it was revered. Why not lead, tin, copper or...? Who or what made gold the precious metal? — Doug Blackstock, Del Mar

So the wife is yapping in your ear, saying that this year, for her birthday, she doesn’t want another pile of raspberries or another stupid rock that looks like one of your neighbors. She wants more. You grab your club and slog out of the cave, figuring that maybe a new ear-flap fur hat would make her happy. Skunk might make a nice statement at the next cave block party. You head out along the stream, a reliable location for random animals, when suddenly something very shiny catches your eye, lodged between two stones in a little waterfall. So what’s the deal? You grab it and inspect it. It’s the shiniest thing you’ve ever seen. The sun reflects off it with a dazzling gleam. No need to scrape it or polish it to make it presentable. It’s gift-ready and will knock wifey out of her little squirrel shoes. Got birthday present written all over it. Soon enough everybody in the neighborhood is out looking for that shiny stuff.

This is definitely how gold was discovered back in the earliest days of quasi-humandom. Way more than 5000 years ago, based on current archaeological findings. Gold has been cool for as long as mankind has had an eye for the unusual. Consider that gold stands out in a streambed or in a vein in a rock. No need to smelt it to make it useful. It’s also present virtually everywhere, so hominids globewide discovered gold simultaneously. Archaeological records from 4000 B.C. indicate that gold was first used as decoration. Soon enough its brilliance and uniqueness made it magical and associated with the gods and royalty and the wealthy and powerful. By the time iron and copper came along, gold had well established itself as a unique, powerful metal. As useful as they were, iron and copper just couldn’t top the charisma already established by gold. They were practical; gold was magic. Egyptians believed their gods’ skin was made of gold. Thousands of years ago, according to scientific record, people prospected for gold. Kings sent serfs and political prisoners off to mine the stuff. Gold was already valuable enough to devote that much manpower to it, though not valuable in a monetary sense.

It took until 1500 B.C. or so for gold to acquire a “dollar” value. By that time, it was accepted as a standard medium of exchange. The Chinese had devised a coinlike object around 1000 B.C., and by 500 B.C. gold coins were used in every trading center. I guess you can figure the rest of gold’s history from there. Even today, thousands of vacationers motor up to the gold hills of California to re-experience the thrill our caveman felt when he plucked the first gold nugget out of an ancient stream.

Dear Matt, I use old copies of the Reader when I thaw frozen chicken breasts or beef short ribs and want to get the meat dry enough to braise and brown nicely. Does Reader newsprint have any toxic inks or dyes that will harm me? — South Park Mom

It’s about time! The Reader has finally progressed from fishwrap to chickenwrap! Grandma says that’s definitely a step up the journalistic ladder. Thank you, South Park Mom, for your ongoing respect. In our house, this is as good as a Pulitzer. But is this chickenwrap slowly killing South Park Mom’s family, an ironic repayment for her respect? No, no! The family will live to eat again — those succulent chicken breasts and spicy short ribs.

For decades, newspaper printing inks have been roughly 70 percent soy (or other vegetable) oil. The primary ink, black, is colored with carbon black, also nontoxic. Any dyes used to color the soy-oil base are vegetable in origin; pigments might have some minute metal component, but not a heavy metal. The feds have been nipping at the ink industry’s heels to make its products safe to humans and all living things, since we manage to recycle more than 70 percent of newsprint. In many states, newsprint is considered so safe it is government approved for large-scale composting operations. And the paper? It’s made mostly from recycled paper. All cellulose, all the time. Fully indigestible but otherwise harmless. And what’s more, newsprint is virtually untouched by human hands, from the cellulose slurry to the printed page, so it’s reliably germ free (well, until we get our mitts on it). Rolled-up newspapers were once recommended for use as a first-aid splint for broken bones partly because of their cleanliness. So give us your defrosting, your grease, whatever you choose to lay on us. We’re fun to read and handy as well. And comforting to know that when you serve a chicken breast you won’t find, transferred across its surface, one of our infamous boob-job ads.

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BlueSouthPark Dec. 2, 2010 @ 3:23 p.m.

Woo, glad to know we haven't been ingesting lead, arsenic, and mercury from ink dyes! Thanks, Matthew Alice. That's lots of good info. That said, I think I'll use the South American newspapers I brought home from vacation as fire starters ...can't be sure about the environmental diligence of other federales.

It's only when I've used The Reader to defrost/dry meat that I have ever read those body-obsessed ads. They surprise me! There must be lots of $$ in mental and body interventions and enhancements.


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