Six Metals Were used
by Prehistoric Man
How Were Metals First
The Start of Metallurgy?
Throughout history and the advancement of civilization, the
discovery, development and application of metals has driven the way
that people live and societies have been organically shaped. Historians
use the intrinsic link of industrial development and the metals
discovered and prevalent at that time, to describe certain periods of
significant social and technological advancements. Such as, the Stone
Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.
|Created from content provided by ASM
International in the book "Metallurgy for the Non-Metallurgist, Second
Editor(s): Arthur C. Reardon"
Since man first discovered copper (Around 9000BC), a naturally
occurring, relatively pure metal, native to many countries, the study
and knowledge of metallurgy has been fundamental to the way humans have
lived. Stemming from a very basic curiousity as to how this new
material could be used, and it's behavior in various situations and
under a variety of conditions metallurgy has developed from an art to a
Our fascination with metals began with Prehistoric man who began
using a range of metals.
Six Metals Were used by Prehistoric Man
Prehistoric man is known to have used six metals. These were:
Each with distinct properties, Prehistoric man discovered that some
metals were more useful for certain jobs and they began to specify
particular metals for applications. For example; Gold and silver are
very soft and were therefore predominantly used for decoration and
bullion for trade. Copper offered Prehistoric man more qualities and
could be hardened by hammering or forging and was therefore used to
make tools - albeit very primitive ones. The discovery of Bronze (an
alloy of copper and tin) changed the way that Man lived, hunted, fought
and prospered. It was stronger than copper, could be hardened by
forging, and could be cast to a specific shape.
Lead is soft, easily worked, and Prehistoric man realised that it was
perfect for making into vessels to transport liquids. Later on, Lead
would be a fundamental material in the manufacture of pipes such as
those used to transport water in the early Roman Empire.
Image 1: A bronze Kuei handled vessel
on a rectangular plinth (34.30 × 44.50 cm) cast in China in the 7th
century B.C. Courtesy of ©The Cleveland Museum of Art, Leonard C.
Hanna, Jr. Fund, 1974.73
Iron was a game changer, it was such an important material, used for
all sorts of applications and the phenomenal growth of its use led to
the 'Iron Age' a transition from the less developed Bronze Age.
Today, our society is completely reliant on metals, often far
removed and much more exotic than the wrought Copper first discovered
thousands of years ago. And, the science of metallurgy is now one of
the most widely documented and researched materials sciences. So where
has our fascination with metals come from to become so dependent on
How Were Metals
The first recorded metals used were those found, in an unreacted
state referred to as 'Native Metals'. These metals could be mined and
used without the need of more complicated extraction or separation from
other metals or nonmetallic atoms. Most metals naturally occur as
minerals or compounds, where the metal atom has reacted with other
metals or nonmetallic atoms, one of the key steps of the development of
Metallurgy as a science, revolves around the extraction of metals from
their naturally states.
Gold, Silver and Copper are all examples of Native metals that
naturally occur in a relatively pure state. Ancient man first found and
began using Native Metals approximately 5000 years BC. Over the next
2000 years, leading up to the Bronze age, man mastered how to find,
manipulate and use these native metals in better ways and in a range of
Nuggets of gold were often the easiest to find and use. Naturally
found mixed with sediment in river beds across the globe, Gold was easy
to collect and relatively easy to shape.Silver was the same and to this
day, both Gold and Silver are still prized and used as decorative
metals for jewelry etc.
The use of Copper is often referred to by historians as a
significant precursor to the Bronze Age, and possibly the beginning of
Metallurgy as we know it today. Copper, much like Gold and Silver
existed in a natural state, with 99.9% pure Ores found around the
globe. Table 1 is an approximate chronological and geographical summary
of some of the early dominant metals:
Table 1. Approximate chronological and
geographical summary of some of the early dominant metals
references of Wrought Native Copper
- 3000 BC
period: melting of copper; experimentation with smelting
of gold and silver and their alloys
of the Bronze Age
- 600 BC
of Mercury for Gilding Metals (Amalgam gilding)
|1200 - 1450
of Cast Iron - Start of the Iron Age
introduced as casting / mold material
produced with coke as fuel, Coalbrookdale
steel developed by Benjamin Huntsman
architectural use of Cast Iron
refining of Aluminium
The Start of Metallurgy?
Unbeknown to the early users of wrought (naturally occurring) copper
who noticed that when they hammered this metal it got significantly
harder and stronger, these were the first steps towards a
Nanotechnology that dominates modern metallurgy.
By Inadvertently controlling the number and configuration of the
nanocrystalline elements of the structure of copper, its hardened
properties made it more useful for things like tools, knives etc. The
discovery that copper could also be obtained by heating Blue Stones or
minerals (primarily copper sulfide ores) occurred between 4000 - 3000
BC. The extraction of Copper from Copper Sulfide Ores provided Man with
another, more abundant source of copper. Hence, Metallurgy was born.
This Article was created from Material provided by ASM
International in the book "Metallurgy
for the Non-Metallurgist, Second Edition" Edited by A.C. Reardon.
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