Generally accepted to be the first metal to be used by man, the first objects made from copper began to appear between 6,000 to 4,000 B.C. Originally broken into pieces, hammered and ground, copper sheets appeared by 5,000 B.C., according to Carnegie Mellon University, and smelted copper such as weapons, decorations and tools appeared in the Nile valley by 3,000 B.C. Since copper is malleable, meaning it can be hammered, bent or pressed into new shapes without breaking, ancient people found innumerous uses for this beautiful metal.
The Sumerians and Chaldeans, ancient people of the Mesopotamian Valley, were the first to use copper, according to Copper Development Association Inc., CDA. The earliest uses include tools for hunting such as copper arrows, quivers, harpoons and spearheads. Small objects such as cloak pins, rings, razors and chisels have been found from the time of prehistoric Sumeria, as were pots, mixing trays and ceremonial objects including saucers and jugs with silver handles. Sumerians were known for their skills in using for copper for sculpture. One of the most popular designs hammered into a copper sheet was that of a bull‘s head. Often huge and complex, these reliefs that were hung on walls began to show up between 3,000 to 2,800 B.C.
Borrowing and improving techniques picked up from the Sumerians, Egyptians created copper tools, some of which are still intact and functional. Ladles, strainers and tongs used in ancient Egypt are still serviceable; some knives and sickles are still sharp and copper pipes can still serve their function as plumbing. Egyptian tombs have provided important clues as to how ancient peoples lived. Due to a belief that buried people needed to be provided with things that would be needed in the next life, copper models of buildings such as tanneries, bakehouses and boats have been found in tombs, according to CDA.
Medicine and Health
Today, people who suffer with arthritis wear copper bracelets believed to ease pain. The medical use of copper has origins in prehistoric civilizations. According to ProQuest CSA, around 2,400 B.C., Egyptians were using copper to sterilize water and wounds, and, by 1,500 B.C., they also used the mineral on burns and itching, and to ease the pain of headaches. In ancient India, copper was used for medical equipment including surgical instruments.
Weights, Balances and Coins
Egyptians originally used rocks as weights, but by 3,200 B.C., they began to utilize copper to create balances and weights used in trade and religious ceremonies, according to CDA. Egyptians molded copper into decorative weights such as animals. Crete used weights shaped like little axes. Assyria used lion weights marked with the names of kings. In ancient China, weights were also made in the shape of animals.
In addition to tools, weapons, ceremonial objects, and containers and utensils for cooking and dining, Egyptians also designed and created personal objects such as copper mirrors, razors and hair tweezers. The blue and green pigments used in eye make-up were made from powdered copper compounds. Copper sticks that ladies used to apply makeup are still functional today, CDA indicates.
- Carnegie Mellon University Department of Materials Science and Engineering: A Short History of Metals
- Minerals Education Coalition: Copper- The Ancient Metal
- Copper Development Association Inc.: Sumerians and Chaldeans
- Copper Development Association Inc.: The Early Egyptians
- ProQuest CSA Discovery Guides: A Brief History of Copper
- Copper Development Association Inc.: Weights and Balances
- Copper Development Association Inc: Some Personal Objects
- Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images