The First Metal
Copper is considered to be one of the very first metals used by the early man. The discovery of copper led mankind from the waning neolithic age into the chalcolithic age. Copper was a thoroughly foreign entity to the neolithic man and, since it is one of the metals naturally found in its pure form, it drastically altered the way humans lived.
However, one of the drawbacks of using copper extensively is that its pure form is quite soft and very malleable. While this is viewed as an advantage in modern times -- since it facilitates the production of copper sheets and wires -- there wasn't much credit to be found 10000 years ago.
This led to the invention of two of the most useful and popular alloys of copper, brass and bronze, produced by mixing copper with zinc and tin, respectively. Brass and, in particular, bronze was much sturdier than copper and could be used to make weapons and various domestic items.
The ancient Indian medicine of Ayurveda recommended that surgical tools be made from copper. The ancient Egyptians also used copper to sterilize wounds and water. These practices are supported by modern research, which has shown that copper alloys have active antimicrobial properties and copper itself passively deters microbial growth on its surface.
Today, copper is a vital resource due to its properties as an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Large deposits of copper can be found in Canada, Chile, Peru, United States, Zambia and Zaire.