Early chemists were known as alchemists. Notice that both chemistry and alchemist include “chem” in the word – the Wikipedia entry for the article Etymology of chemistry is an interesting read and helps explain the ancient global origin of the words. The foundations of modern chemistry actually owe a lot to ancient scientists known as alchemists. For nearly two thousand years, people in Africa, Asia, and Europe were actively engaged in alchemy: the work of turning ordinary (readily available) matter into gold and other substances perceived to be valuable. For more on the history of alchemy, watch the Crash Course video below:
Why has gold become such a desired metal? Civilizations throughout history have used gold as a display of wealth and power. The desire to possess gold, especially the gold of other nations, has resulted in countless wars throughout history. Through this lens, it makes sense that alchemists sought ways to create gold from other materials. More gold should equal more wealth, and perhaps if there was enough gold, nations would stop trying to take gold away from each other by force. By that logic, do you think alchemists were successful?
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