Text #9408"History of Metallurgy", in .
The earliest recorded metal employed by humans appears to be gold which can be found free or “native.” Small amounts of natural gold have been found in Spanish caves used during the late Paleolithic period, c. 40,000 BC. Silver, copper, tin and meteoric iron can also be found in native form, allowing a limited amount of metalworking in early cultures. Egyptian weapons made from meteoric iron in about 3000 BC were highly prized as “daggers from heaven.”
Certain metals, notably tin, lead and (at a higher temperature) copper, can be recovered from their ores by simply heating the rocks in a fire, a process known as smelting. The first evidence of this extractive metallurgy dates from the 5th and 6th millennium BC and was found in the archaeological sites of Majdanpek, Yarmovac and Plocnik, all three in Serbia. To date, the earliest evidence of copper smelting is found at the Belovode site, including a copper axe from 5500 BC belonging to the Vinča culture. Other signs of early metals are found from the third millennium BC in places like Palmela (Portugal), Los Millares (Spain), and Stonehenge (United Kingdom). However, the ultimate beginnings cannot be clearly ascertained and new discoveries are both continuous and ongoing.
These first metals were single ones or as found. About 3500 BC, it was discovered that by combining copper and tin, a superior metal could be made, an alloy called bronze, representing a major technological shift known as the Bronze Age.
The extraction of iron from its ore into a workable metal is much more difficult than for copper or tin. The process appears to have been invented by the Hittites in about 1200 BC, beginning the Iron Age. The secret of extracting and working iron was a key factor in the success of the Philistines.
Historical developments in ferrous metallurgy can be found in a wide variety of past cultures and civilizations. This includes the ancient and medieval kingdoms and empires of the Middle East and Near East, ancient Iran, ancient Egypt, ancient Nubia, and Anatolia (Turkey), Ancient Nok, Carthage, the Greeks and Romans of ancient Europe, medieval Europe, ancient and medieval China, ancient and medieval India, ancient and medieval Japan, amongst others. Many applications, practices, and devices associated or involved in metallurgy were established in ancient China, such as the innovation of the blast furnace, cast iron, hydraulic-powered trip hammers, and double acting piston bellows.
A 16th century book by Georg Agricola called De re metallica describes the highly developed and complex processes of mining metal ores, metal extraction and metallurgy of the time. Agricola has been described as the “father of metallurgy”.