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The History of Metallurgy & Metallurgical Engineering

The History of Metallurgy & Metallurgical Engineering

Have you ever wondered when and how humans started manipulating raw minerals into metals?

The exact time in history when humans started moulding and smelting metal has been an uncertainty, but instead researchers have found that metallurgy has various places of origin from multiple locations dating as far back as the Stone Age.

Ancient Pages - History of Metallurgy

Scientists have debated for a long time who discovered metallurgy. 

Ancient Metallurgy

From 7000BC technology found itself between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age, and was awkwardly named the Chalcolithic Period, which when translated from Greek means “Copper and Stone’. 

Just as awkward, learning to manipulate copper using heat was most likely an accident.

With the use of fire, other manipulations of metal also came to light, which contributed significantly to the development of metallurgy.  It was found that by applying heat, one could either cast metal by pouring metal into moulds or extract the metal by smelting.

After stumbling upon the changing properties of copper, some Neolithic communities in eastern Anatolia started producing crude weapons and tools from copper and found that the newly ‘forged’ equipment’s lifespan was greater than their stone counterparts. 

Some of the earliest objects that were produced by smelting copper are known in Iran.

Where Mining began

Most of the copper ore was originally found on the surface of the earth in rock form.  The Neolithic communities realised that in order to obtain the copper found in the rocks they had collected they would have to strip and chip away at them.  This led to another advancement in technology: mining.

By 3800BC, copper mines started to develop in the Sinai Peninsula and at the hillside of Rudna Glava, in the Balkans.  At the Sinai Peninsula mines, equipment has been found that indicates that smelting was carried out as part of the mining process.

By 2800BC, another development of metallurgy came about, where some ore deposits found produced both copper and tin.  It was discovered that when these two metals were cast together, the metal produced was harder than when smelted on its own; leading to the discovery of Bronze. 

The Bronze Age

Bronze became such a useful product to humans, that an entire period in early civilization became best known as the Bronze Age.  Bronze was compact and easy to transport, making it a great commodity to trade.

From 1500BC there was another great development in metallurgy, the discovery of iron.  However, iron was more difficult to manipulate as it required a much higher temperature to melt the ore. 

Not being able to reach the temperatures required to melt the ore and extract the pure metal, basic heating and hammering of the impure ore was applied which forced the impurities out and was used to create blades.

Almost a 1000 years later, in 513BC, the Chinese finally overcame the limitations of the then traditional furnaces and developed a furnace that could reach the temperatures required to melt the iron.  This development led to the Chinese producing the world’s first cast iron, which would go on to be used to reinforce building structures.

The Chinese were pioneers in cast iron, and iron foundries in the western world were only developed in England in AD 1161.

For a more comprehensive understanding of the history of Metallurgy we found the following website very interesting and insightful:

The History of Metallurgy



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