A Brief History Of Metallurgy


Metal WorksIt’s safe to say that without metals and metalworking, mankind wouldn’t have advanced to the modern age. Humans would still be hunter-gatherers instead of crop growers, animal herders, and large-scale industrialists. Between metal spinners and everything else in the field of metallurgy, the world owes what it is to hardy minerals from underneath the earth.

Man’s First Brush With Metals

It’s assumed that prehistoric humans used six main metals: gold, copper, silver, tin, lead, and iron. Nobody knows which metal was discovered first, but it’s assumed that humankind started using copper as early as 9000 B.C. Copper is about as common as metals can get and it’s easy to work with. These might be the two main reasons that built the foundation for the world’s earliest civilisations.

Gold, while much rarer, is also widely used during these times. Experts claim that these two metals were used first because they occur in a ‘free state’. That is, they’re not mixed with other materials. It might’ve been easy for early humans to spot gold and copper nuggets wherever they lived. Both metals are also quite malleable. Without melting or heating, they can be shaped into various useful forms.

Onward To The Future

Humans didn’t know of smelting until several thousand years later. Since the use of fire is widespread, the discovery of smelting may have been an accident — a metal nugget or a finished tool falling into a campfire, melting, and being malleable enough to form more shapes. The earliest discovered examples of metal casting date to the 3800 B.C., when ancient objects of smelted copper were found in Iran.

This eventually led to mining. The world’s first documented mining efforts go back to the same period. Man-made shafts used for excavating copper ore were discovered in ancient caves in the Balkans. The timeline goes further forward to 2800 B.C. when people found out that they can mix metals with others to create new ones. A mixture of copper and tin formed the alloy bronze; a metal so important that the Bronze Age was born. Iron, steel, and cast iron were discovered thousands of years later, in succession.

Since then, metalworking’s importance in modern society has grown to a monumental one.

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