Origin of Bronze

bronze sword
   Sometime between 3500 and 3000 B.C., people discovered that mixing copper and tin would yield a new metallic substance, harder and tougher than either copper or tin. This new substance was bronze, and its discovery was an important event in human history.

   Before the discovery of bronze, most tools and weapons were made of stone, wood, or bone. Stone could be given a sharp edge, but it was hard to shape, and it broke easily. Bone and wood, being softer than stone, were easier to shape. But they also wore out more quickly.

   Copper, which was discovered around 5000 B.C.  made better tools and weapons than stone, wood, or bone. It could be cast (melted and poured into a mold) or hammered into many different shapes. When a copper knife broke, it could be melted down and used to make a new knife. But copper was soft, and it bent easily.

   Bronze was different. Bronze could be cast into complicated shapes more easily than copper. It would hold a sharp edge much longer. It did not bend in use or grow brittle quickly, as copper did. Durable bronze hoes and spades helped farmers to cultivate their fields better and thus grow more food. Bronze saws and chisels made it possible for carpenters to cut and trim wood accurately.

   Bronze brought other changes, too. Armies equipped with bronze weapons easily crushed their more primitive neighbors. From these conquests the first empires were formed.

   Archeologists believe that bronze originated somewhere in the mountainous regions of southwestern Asia. Both native copper nuggets and tin ore were found there, often in the beds of mountain streams. Tin was probably discovered shortly before bronze, when an early gold hunter tried to melt the gold out of some gravel containing tin ore. But tin—a soft, pliable white metal—was apparently not used by itself. No tin objects from that time have been found.

   Metallurgy (the science of metals) was a mysterious art in those times. Primitive metal -workers experimented with new combinations of metals and ores, just as sorcerers might try new ingredients in their "magical" potions. Copper was already being alloyed with lead and antimony to make it easier to cast. When someone tried adding tin, bronze was the result.

   The knowledge of how to make bronze spread gradually from the Near East to other parts of the ancient world. Eventually, people from China to the British Isles were using bronze. The period in history when bronze was the most important material for tools and weapons is called the Bronze Age. It lasted from about 3500 B.C. to 1200 B.C.  when iron became plentiful and cheap enough for everyday use and took the place of bronze.