The Ancient History of Copper

Copper is (of course) a metal you've seen, heard of, and own in some variation. But what is it? And what is its history? This article will give you a brief history lesson on this wonderful metal.

What is Copper?

Copper was one of the first metals used by humans, with findings of its use going back to 8000 BCE and the Neolithic humans. Though more sophisticated use of this metal dates back 6000 years ago to the Sumerians and Chaldeans of Mesopotamia. Copper is also one of a few metals commonly found in its metallic state, so it's no doubt that its shiny red and orange exterior caught the attention of people living in various areas across the ancient world.

Copper can be found naturally in many locations worldwide since it is a primary mineral found in volcanic rocks. It is also naturally found in sea corals, mollusks, seaweed, and the human liver.

Ancient Uses Across Civilizations

By nature, copper is a softer metal making it less than ideal for durable materials such as weapons. The early Mesopotamians soon learned that bronze, the mixture of copper and tin, was the strong material they'd been looking for. However, copper's usefulness and versatility made it a great metal for art and tool making.

When polished, copper creates a beautiful shiny luster that made it ideal for luxury jewelry as well as art forms like small figurines. Copper was also used as a tool-making metal across various cultures, from Mesopotamia to Italy to South America. Its pliability and adaptability made it a popular metal for things such as razors, needles, arrows, and chisels.

Later, copper was a popular luxury metal for those who could afford it in goods such as fine jewelry and serving dishes. It was also a good metal for instruments, both medical and musical. Copper's versatility also lent itself as a tool for art and writing. Minoan painters used copper compounds to create blue, as well as add other colors like red and green to ancient glass.

As for its history in literary advancements, thin sheets of copper were used as a writing surface. The most famous piece of evidence for this is The Copper Scroll, found in a cave off the shores of the Dead Sea, in the same area where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

In Egypt, copper tubes were used to bring water to the Temple of King Sa'Hu-Re. The metal was also used to create mirrors, razors, weights, balances, temple adornments, and bronze.

As Rome increased its empire, copper became a part of the expansion. One of the primary uses for copper was for coins, as some of the earliest Roman coins were made from cast bronze.

Copper also became essential for creating brass, a mixture of copper and zinc, which became increasingly popular throughout Rome. Romans also made use of copper (and bronze) through art, musical instruments, decorative and ceremonial items, as well as in armor, helmets, swords, and spears.

Rome is also known for introducing the English word copper. "Copper" derives from the Latin word cuprum, a word derived from the phrase "a metal from Cyprus," which is where much of the copper at the time was mined.

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