Discovery of Metals

Events

Gold

6000 BC

Easily found in its purest form as golden nuggets due to its lustre and bright yellow colour

Copper

5000 BC

Discovery of copper still unexplained; presumed that as it occurs in nature in a directly usable metallic form, was used in very early human uses and was discovered fairly easily

Bronze

4500 BC

Oldest tin alloy bronzes were found at an archaeological site dating back around 4500 BC, but direct discovery cannot be stated
A theory suggests that the discovery of bronze was accidental when copper and tin-rich rocks were used to build campfire rings - as the stones became heated by the fire, the metals in the rocks were melted and mixed

Silver

4000 BC

One of the first five elements to be discovered, nuggets of silver metal can be found in minerals and sometimes in rivers
Can also be found in large pieces, and due to its shiny appearance, was noticed and discovered by people

Lead

3400 BC

Impossible to determine when the discovery of lead was made, and it does not occur naturally as an element very often
However lead sulfide, which is one of its ores, is fairly common, and relatively easy to obtain pure lead metal from the lead sulfide, so it is generally assumed that humans discovered separation methods thousands of years ago

Tin

3000 BC

Believed that the discovery of tin was an unintentional result of alloying due to trace metal content in the copper ore
In ancient times, cassiterite was most likely the original source of tin, and its black, purple dark colour allowed it to be seen easily in river banks

Iron

1500 BC

Iron artifacts from ancient times are much rarer than those of silver or gold because of the ease with which iron corrodes, making it harder to trace the history of iron
Likely that the first iron used by humans came from meteorites
Meteoric iron contains 90% iron, and was highly regarded due to originating from the heavens. It was collected and often used to forge weapons and tools

Brass

1400 BC

Brass was not fully understood until the post medieval period because the zinc vapour which reacted with copper was not recognised as a metal
Copper and gold were too soft and weak for further practical uses - the Roman Empire wanted to build stronger structures and combined two or more metals for improved characteristics. As this mixing continued, brass was discovered

Steel

300 BC

Discovery of steel was coincidental - it was the coming together of molten iron and charcoal from the smelting of fire
Techniques of improving iron by adding carbon and coldworking allowed iron to be preferred over bronze
Standardised process of this was created by Sir Henry Bessemer much later in 1856

Aluminium

1825

Most abundant element in the earth’s crust, but is usually combined with other elements to form compounds
Scientists such as English chemist Sir Humphrey Davy suspected that an unknown metal existed in alum but couldn’t find a way to extract it until 1825, when Danish physicist H.C Oersted managed to produce the first nodules of aluminium