No one knows exactly who discovered copper, since it has been used by man since prehistoric times. Archaeological evidences suggest that copper was discovered almost 10000 years ago -- between 8000 and 9000 BC. There are many historical evidences revealing the use of copper in the ancient world to make jewelry, utensils and weapons, such as blades, spear-tips and shields.
Historians opine that the Romans used copper on a large scale, and the metal was one of the most important (if not precious) commodities. The Romans extracted copper from the island of Cyprus. This led to it being called cyprium -- Latin for 'Cyprus' or 'from Cyprus'. Later, the name cyprium was modified to cuprum, which is its modern scientific name. The anglicization of the Latin term led to it being called 'copper'. Due to its natural luster and appealing appearance, it is associated with Aphrodite and Venus, the Roman and Greek goddesses of beauty, love and pleasure.
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, or the copper 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.
Middle Eastern countries (along the Fertile Crescent) have evidences of mines and smelters dealing in copper dating back to thousands of years ago. Many ancient civilizations, notably the Romans, used pieces of copper as currency. Copper alloys were used to make weapons, shields, and sometimes armor. The ancient Indian medicine of Ayurveda recommended that surgical tools be made from copper. The ancient Egyptians also thought on similar lines in using 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.