Origin of Metal


Since our hobby is about metal detecting, let's dig a little deeper and do some research. Not on local history this time, but the history of metal. How did metal come about? What we found is quite interesting.

The first time metal was discovered is unknown. By the end of the Late Stone Age in the Middle East, men were already at a level where they had harnessed animals to sledges, had plows, and knew simple ways of irrigating land. Ships with sails were already traveling the eastern Mediterranean and Arabian seas. Objects made of beaten copper, gold and other metals were in common use as ornaments. It is even believed that Egyptian women used a form of "powdered copper malachite" as eye shadow.

Stone Age
Metals undergo a change when dropped into fire, and it would seem that copper could have been the first metal discovered. Possibly, a Stone Age man built his campfire using stones that had copper in them, and in the morning when he went to start the fire, saw the hard shiny beads in the ashes. Did he pick up the beads, look at them and then toss them back into the ashes thinking they were useless? Or maybe he laid them on a rock, smashed them, and then formed them into some sort of ornaments.

Bronze Age
In the Middle East some 8000 years ago another man discovered that by fusing copper with tin he could make bronze. He found out it could keep it's shape and a sharp edge too. Maybe by trial and error, he eventually discovered it could be poured into a mold to cast a metal blade. This would have been a great discovery, but it still took a long time for metal to replace stone working. Stones were easier to come by, and metal working was hard work. But eventually the stone axes and stone knives were replaced by a very efficient and deadly sharp metal knife.

Foreign Traders
The knowledge of the existence of metal came to southern Europe about 5000 years ago. But it took a thousand years for this information to spread as far as western or northern Europe. Along the shores of the Mediterranean, people visited each other in boats or even rafts. They must have been amazed when the first foreign traders landed, and showed them objects made of metal, a material which they had never seen. They listened to the stories of the traders that told them of inventions which came from the land of the Far East. Perhaps, the strong heavy metal the oriental traders had brought was bronze.

The Egyptians
The Egyptians between 3000 BC and 2000 BC were called Babylonians. These people of ancient, cultured Egypt were working in bronze, iron, gold, and silver, and were building magnificent cities. Although in the markets, buying and selling was still by barter, in the palace of the Pharaohs heavy rings of gold or copper representing different weights were exchanged as tokens. They had not yet become coins, as we know them, but they were to lead to the use of money for trading. The Egyptians had a high level of civilization, yet they were still considered living in the Bronze Age.

It seems that people that lived in the warmer climates of the Nile and Euphrates, and Tigris River in Northern Africa were far more advanced than the people living in the north. The people in the north were still savages and living in caves near the glaciers. But at the same time, people in the East had already constructed cities like Babylon as early as 7000 BC.

The Far East
Even in 1494 AD, when the first explorers rounded the southern end of Africa and were making their way to the Far East, they presented the first Orientals they met with gifts of trinkets from Portugal. These Orientals were insulted because were already use to gifts which included gold, ivory and precious jewels. The farther east these explorers traveled the more they discovered they were not welcome, and Moslems were amazed that they had even found their ways into the waters that they had held for centuries.

The Americas
As you know, when the explorers came to the Americas, metal was still an unknown element to the occupants. Even the South American Mayans had used stone tools and their knowledge of metal was limited to ornamental objects of gold. The North American Indians also used stone implements. They were still living as their ancestors did hundreds and even thousands of years ago.

In Conclusion
No one really knows when metal was discovered or first used. It goes along the same lines as who discovered fire, and who invented the wheel, which the wheel was probably invented when they learned they could roll things with the use of logs. and lightning strikes probably helped in the discovery of fire. All we really know is that in all probability metal was first discovered in the Middle East or China.