Copper in History

Copper has been in use for at least 10,000 years, yet, it is still a high technology material, as evidenced by the development of the copper chip by the semi-conductors industry.

Archaeological evidence demonstrates that copper was one of the first metals used by humans and was used around 10,000 years ago. During the prehistoric Chalcolithic Period (derived from chalkos, the Greek word for copper), man discovered how to extract and use copper to produce ornaments and implements. As early as the 4th to 3rd millennium BC, workers extracted copper from Spain’s Huelva region.

Bronze Sword

The discovery that copper, when alloyed with tin, produces bronze, led to the Bronze Age, c. 2,500 BC. Israel’s Timna Valley provided copper to the Pharaohs (an Egyptian papyrus records the use of copper to treat infections and to sterilize water). Cyprus supplied much of the Phoenician, Greek and Roman needs for copper. “Copper” is derived from the latin Cyprium, literally Cyprian metal. While the Greeks of Aristotle’s era were familiar with brass, as a copper alloy, it was under Augustus’ Imperial Rome that brass came into being.

In South America, the pre- Columbian Maya, Aztec and Inca civilizations exploited copper, in addition to gold and silver.

During the Middle Ages, copper and bronze works flourished in China, India and Japan.

The discoveries and inventions relating to electricity and magnetism of the late 18th and early 19th centuries by scientists such as Ampere, Faraday and Ohm, and the products manufactured from copper, helped launch the Industrial Revolution and propel copper into a new era.