How Was Gold Purified in Ancient Times?

Gold has been a valuable metal for thousands of years, and its rarity and beauty have made it a symbol of wealth and power. However, in its natural state, gold is often mixed with other metals or impurities that make it less valuable.

To purify gold and separate it from these other materials, ancient people used a variety of techniques that have been refined over time. In this article, we’ll explore some of the methods used to purify gold in ancient times.

Fire Assay

One of the most common methods used to purify gold was fire assay. This technique involves heating the impure gold in a crucible to high temperatures until it melts.

The heat causes the impurities to separate from the gold and form a layer on top, which can then be scraped off. The remaining gold is then poured into a mold and allowed to cool into a pure bar or ingot.

The Cupellation Process

Another method that was often used in conjunction with fire assay was the cupellation process. This method involved heating the purified gold in a cupel, which is a small cup made of bone ash or clay.

The cupel was placed in a furnace and heated until the gold melted and absorbed any remaining impurities. The resulting pure gold bead could then be weighed and sold.

Aqua Regia

Aqua regia is another method that was used to purify gold in ancient times. This mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid can dissolve most metals, including gold. The resulting solution is then heated to evaporate off any excess acid, leaving behind pure gold.


Amalgamation was also commonly used to extract gold from ore or other sources that were too low-grade for fire assay or aqua regia. This process involves mixing mercury with the crushed ore or other material containing gold. The mercury bonds with the gold, forming an amalgam that can then be heated to vaporize the mercury and leave behind pure gold.

In Conclusion

In summary, ancient people used a variety of techniques to purify gold and separate it from other metals or impurities. Fire assay, cupellation, aqua regia, and amalgamation were all commonly used methods that have been refined over time. While these techniques may seem primitive compared to modern methods, they were effective at producing pure gold and helped establish its value as a precious metal.