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I am currently brainstorming the history and logistics of the dragon species in my urban fantasy story about immortal mythical creatures. The way I currently envision them, dragons have their stereotypical signature hoards of treasure because they essentially use gold like solar panels: the celestial energies of the earth can either be dangerous to a magical creature or be harnessed for magical sustenance depending on their wavelength, which changes depending on what solid or liquid substance it most recently and predominantly passed through. In dragons' cases, they can absorb the planet's energy most effectively when it's recently passed through a large amount of gold.

Furthermore, in my setting, all mythical creatures were once humans who were subject to an extremely rare, spontaneous magical transformation that magically activated them and turned them into their own species, which could then reproduce with humans and override mundane human DNA (incidentally, yes, dragons are capable of shapeshifting back into a human form for this and other purposes). So it stands to reason that the ex-human who became the progenitor of the dragon species already had a hoard of gold while they were human, otherwise they wouldn't last long enough to breed when they became a dragon.

So now I'm wondering what that implies about how old the dragon species could be.

Given what we know about the history of the development of human technology and culture, what is the absolute earliest that a human being could have amassed a pile of golden treasure, big enough for a human to lie down in, that could have become the first dragon hoard?

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  • $\begingroup$ @user535733 Yes, it needs to be real gold for them to gain any energy from it. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for coming up with an origin story that doesn't require justifying evolution of a dependency on a metal that's unlikely to exist in significant quantities without human mining. As for the answer to your question, the practical answer is, "a year or so after the first two humans fought over gold because it looked pretty." I suspect that was a honking long time ago. Remember that people didn't initially mine or work gold because it was considered valuable. They did because it was malleable, looked pretty, and didn't rust. Ascribing value came after that. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 3:03
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    $\begingroup$ Crows collect shiny things, allegedly evolved about 17 million years ago. So the first collection was plausibly about 17 million years ago. Humans didn't get record-happy until recently. I would suggest first collections varied between about 7k BC and 17M BC. Big enough to lie down on? We don't really know, but likely would have required a decent tyrant of a town with trade. Makes me think of the rocks of Truk. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 4:53
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    $\begingroup$ Does it need to be processed gold? If not I'm thinking you could stretch your dragon origins backwards a significant amount if you allowed, say, caves rich in gold veins. $\endgroup$
    – Lemming
    Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 7:34
  • $\begingroup$ Smelting predates history. That is, the earliest records of human history come long after humans were smelting metals. That was typically copper, for tools. $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 21:40

4 Answers 4

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A Very Long Time Ago

Our gold hoarding incipient dragon (let's call him Thag. Ask Gary Larson how Thag's ancestor of the same name famously died.) doesn't need a mine. Thag barely needs agriculture. He might even be a pure hunter gatherer in the right environment.

The environment Thag requires:

  • Good shelter (caves or simple huts)
  • Abundant game (perhaps along the migratory route of multiple species that migrate at different times)
  • Abundant food plants (naturally growing and perhaps early agriculture)
  • Good enough climate (so the humans there don't need a migratory lifestyle)
  • A river
  • Hills up river (As Yosemite Sam said, ”there's gold in them thar hills”)

Having a fixed place to stay allows critical changes from a wandering society. The biggest is the accumulation of items beyong what can be carried. As this happens, the concept of mine over ours has a chance to begin expanding from a tiny handful of personal items all the way to dragons with vaste hoards (and their modern equivalents, the multi billionaires).

So, for a cave (or mud hut) man, Thag and his tribe are living far better than most other humans of this time.

But wait, I said the gold was in the hills. Poor Thag's career as the first greedy gold hugger is over before it began. Thag is smart, but he's never even seen gold yet and doesn't own any mining tool even as good as a modern garden spade. Poor Thag will die never knowing what he missed, except for a few little details.

Much of the massive amount of gold deposited in the hills is metallic gold (dust, flakes, nuggets). No chemical processing needed.

On a geologic time scale, rivers are incredibly powerful mining machines.

One day Thag was spearing fish in the river when something caught his eye. He knelt down, sifting through the pebbles on the bottom and pulled up a pea-sized piece of gold.

Had Thag been a common human (or protohuman) from our world, he might have kept it just to show others the odd shiny rock. Thag wasn't from our world. Thag didn't want to show his rock to anyone. The feeling of touching the gold gave him a desire he had no words for.

Thag took a long walk away from where he and the others lived, stopping and marvelling at the tiny lump of gold every so often.

After much thought, Thag realized two things. He needed to live just a little apart from the others (privacy was not yet a concept in his group), and he had to got more of these amazing rocks.

Thag became a model worker in his group. He got up early to hunt, fish, and harvest. He helped out with all other tasks at a speed that amazed others. Beyond this and living a little apart from the others, his only other noticeable quirk was always disappeared upriver for at least an hour each day.

Late each night Thag would pull aside an animal skin and fall back on his growing pile of gold. Finally, 5 years after Thag was surprised by that first tiny piece of gold, his gold hoard gave him an even bigger surprise.

Thag isn't sure how long ago this happened. He thinks maybe 15 to 20 thousand years ago. Currently, he goes by the name Thaddeus Morgan IV. Thaddeus owns Golden Rivers Mining, the largest gold mining and processing conglomerate in the world.

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    $\begingroup$ Honestly this is a super tempting origin story. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ @CyrusDrake - I'm glad you like it. If you need the amount of gold to be larger than what could reasonably be done with 5 years of picking by hand, you could have Thag notice that gold doesn't wash away as fast as other materials, eventually resulting in him figuring out a way to pan for gold. All he would need is a tree with large and fairly sturdy leaves. There was a perfect tree that fits the requirements in my village (thick roundish leaves over 20 cm across-would be a great disposable dinner plate for a cave man). I'd add a pic, but it was cut down a few years ago. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 2:30
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Below the hills of Bulgaria, down in ancient tombs, we have found the earliest gold artifacts, dating back to between 4700 and 4200 BC. Slumbering deeper under the ground, the Sakdrisi site is found. The oldest gold mining site in the world, from approximately 3rd and 4th millennium BC. So around 7000 years ago would be the earliest plausible date from our knowledge if this world is strictly based on earth, or bronze age civilization. If your dragon is not, in fact Bulgarian, anywhere after the 3rd century is where gold becomes more and more common.

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    $\begingroup$ "You've heard of the Hungarian Horntail... now get ready for the Bulgarian Bonetail!" $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ You may need to stretch the quantities a bit here. The quantities of gold available back then are not quite the hoard OP is looking for. AFAIK even the ancient romans only mined a couple of tons of gold in total of multiple centuries in their entire empire. So even then I'm not sure there ever was a hoard as described by OP in one place. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ If it's fiction then it's fairly easy to imagine that, in the story's fictional history, more gold was mined in Bulgaria in 4000 BC, particularly if there is a character in the story who wants to lie down in a pile of gold and has the wherewithal to make that happen. I don't think readers will struggle to suspend their disbelief on that basis. $\endgroup$
    – kaya3
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 10:29
  • $\begingroup$ I've been learning about coins. Though gold was prized before the first gold coins, there's a marked increase in gold hoarding after the first coins were struck in about 550BC. Naturally, this is because coins made it easier to trade the metal, so most hoards were coins or struck into coins. $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 15:34
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Anytime you want

Other answers have mentioned that humans in our world started mining and collecting gold ~7000 years ago. However, since in your world, there is a rare mutation that forks magical species from humans, technological history could play out differently. What if there was a race of King Midases in 200,000BC? Or super-miner dwarves in 1,000,000BC?

Also, what about some sort of "Golden Goose" species that eats rocks and deposits metal droppings?

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Does it have to be pure?

If not, just go lay at the pile of gold ore in the ruins of the mountain that was split apart by yesterday's earthquake.

All necessary elements precede humanity and even mammals. You can set this as early as you'd like.

Mystical reverence for the Earthquake and/or for the the Ruins optional.

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