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K. Kris Hirst

The History of Metals: Copper

By January 16, 2013

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I recently ran into a terrific summary of archaeometallurgy--the study of ancient metal use--by David Killick and Thomas Fenn, in the Annual Review of Archaeology, and it has inspired me to start an in-depth study of metals, similar to my Plant Domestication and Raw Materials lists.

Copper Plate Reproductions, Spiro Mounds, Oklahoma
Copper Plate Reproductions, Spiro Mounds, Oklahoma. Originals made ca AD 1250-1450. Photo of the Spiro Mounds museum display by peggydavis66

The history of metals is a fascinating one, and it really starts with copper: a metal found in abundance all over the world and independently discovered and worked many different times in many different locations. As such, copper is a good starting point for an overview of ancient metal use: look for more in-depth studies going forward.

For a scholarly overview of ancient metallurgy, definitely see Killick and Fenn:

Killick D, and Fenn T. 2012. Archaeometallurgy: The Study of Preindustrial Mining and Metallurgy. Annual Review of Anthropology 41(1):559-575.


January 28, 2013 at 4:14 pm
(1) John Hobbs says:

MS. Hirst,
Havent’ly you yet heard that over 5,000 years ago there was not enought copper found in all of the known world to make all the bronze weapons in use at that time. and that the Pheonicians were the main source of trade. And that there have been found hundreds of copper mines in northern Michigian (not counting Northern Wisc.) that date before 5,000 BC? And It is estimated that over a billion tons were shipped out by the Pheonicians as there have been found relics made by them at these sites!

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