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I was researching metalworking in the ancient world and came across a mention of the “seven metals of antiquity.” I found a good short summary, “A Short History of Metals,” by Alan W. Cramb, a metallurgist who is now provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Cramb identifies “the metals upon which civilization was based” as:

  1. Gold (ca) 6000BC
  2. Copper (ca) 4200BC
  3. Silver (ca) 4000BC
  4. Lead (ca) 3500BC
  5. Tin (ca) 1750BC
  6. Iron,smelte, (ca) 1500BC
  7. Mercury (ca) 750BC

Cramb discusses each of these metals and their history in more detail and says that

These metals were known to the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks, and the Romans. Of the seven metals, five can be found in their native states, e.g., gold, silver, copper, iron (from meteors) and mercury. However, the occurrence of these metals was not abundant and the first two metals to be used widely were gold and copper.

One of the sources he lists is the much more extensive 1960 book, A History of Metals, by Leslie Aitchison. I found an electronic copy of this Aitchison book available through the HathiTrust. You might be able to get access to it if you have an account with an academic library.

Credit: Phirosiberia via Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Phirosiberia via Wikimedia Commons

ARK — 8 September 2013

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