Copper in Antiquity


Copper was probably the first metal used by ancient cultures, and the oldest artefacts made with it date to the Neolithic period. The shiny red-brown metal was used for jewellery, tools, sculpture, bells, vessels, lamps, amulets, and death masks, amongst other things. So important was the metal in human development that it gave its name to the Copper Age, today better known as the Chalcolithic. Copper was necessary to make brass and, of course, bronze, the metal which gave its name to the time period succeeding the Copper Age, besides many other alloys. From Phoenicia to Mesoamerica, copper was a badge of elite status before becoming more widely available. A handy form of exchange in the trade between cultures, eventually, copper symbolic goods were replaced by more manageable ingots which, in turn, evolved into even more convenient coins. Gold and silver may have been common enough for the rich and powerful, but if there was one pure metal that ordinary people in the ancient world could get their hands on, it was copper.

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