The history of sheet metalworking
Follow the history of metalworking of a period of 8,000 years! Read about the rise and fall of entire advanced civilisations and their fight for the best ore deposits. Find out how close the development of our culture is tied to iron and steel.
The different ages in the development of man are named after the materials from which primarily tools, basic commodities and weapons were made. Lasting more than two million years, the Stone Age is the longest of all ages. In archaeology, the Stone Age is divided into six shorter sections, in which man made further advances. They include, among other things, the Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic), Medium Stone Age (Mesolithic) and the Young Stone Age (Neolithic). In the first of these sections people used all the materials that they found in nature near them. At the beginning these were mainly branches, bones, tree bark and stones in their natural state.
During the course of time, people discovered that different stones also had different properties. Rocks which were hard and brittle and had a shell-shaped fracture were particularly interesting. This means that a stone cannot be split in the middle through mechanical action. However, when they are hit, splinters spall from the surface, which frequently have a shell shape. With practice, stones could be worked to produce the required shape and also had razor-sharp outside edges. The broken off splinters were also extremely sharp and were used as arrow tips or knives. Flintstone and obsidian were used most frequently.
The first metals
Archaeologists still do not agree when humans became aware of metal and processed and used them. Several scientists assume that gold was the first metal to be used by humans. Gold can still be found worldwide in rivers and streams, which flow through rock layers containing gold. The eroding effect of the water releases the gold and it can be found in the form of nuggets. Scientists estimate that it is not unlikely that our predecessors were making simple jewellery out of gold 80,000 years ago.
Gold is a very soft material, which can be worked with the simplest of tools. Flint and obsidian are significantly harder than gold and are good for scratching grooves or a pattern in a piece of jewellery. But this falls a long way short of enabling a “Gold Era” to be inserted between the Young Stone Age and Copper Age, as people never made tools and weapons from gold. The metal was too rare for this and was also too soft to be a useful material for tools.
It is impossible to define an exact time for the transition from the Young Stone Age to the Copper Age. 10,000 years ago the land was very sparsely populated and many tribes hardly came into contact with other people. From a scientific point of view it is therefore always useful to associate the age with a region. For example, the Stone Age in the Balkan region ended several thousand years earlier than in Central Europe. What is particularly striking is the differences between civilisations which made major achievements in science, material processing and astronomy while in other regions the people were only just beginning to put down roots and settle.
Most elements do not occur on the earth in their pure form. They are mostly in chemical compounds and can be hardly detected with the naked eye. There are several exceptions among the metals, which include gold, silver and copper. If metals exist in a chemically pure form, they are called “native”.
Gold glistens in light like the sun and so probably awakened people’s interest. Other metals can also occur in native form. However, the quantities available were probably insufficient to draw the attention of people at the time. The deposits were also often concealed in unattainable depths and could not be reached using the simple means available at the time.
“Menschen der Urzeit”, Karl-Müller-Verlag, ISBN 3833601191
“Das große Buch der Mineralien”, Voltmedia, ISBN 3937229051
Bilder: private collection