The first use of silver dates back to around 5,000 BC and the ancient Greeks and Egyptians are credited with the discovery of this element. We take you through the history of silver and tell you more about who discovered it and when.
‘Silver Scrolls’ are the oldest known artifacts that have been hand-tooled by ancient silversmiths in the present-day Jerusalem region. They consist of two silver sheets in a rolled up form, and have been dated to around 600 B.C.
Unlike other metals, silver and gold have been known to man since ages. The chemical symbol of silver is Ag, which stands for Argentum in Latin. The atomic number of Silver is 47, and the atomic weight is 107.8682 g/mol. Silver naturally occurs as a pure metal, and it reacts when exposed to ozone (O3) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S). This element has 47 protons, 47 electrons, and 61 neutrons. It has two stable isotopes – Ag 107 and Ag 109. In the periodic table, it is positioned in the 5th period, group 11.
Realistically speaking, there is a controversy regarding the discovery of silver and its applications. Nevertheless, it can be said that a proper usage of this element started around 5,000 B.C. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks were probably the first ones to discover this metal.
A Brief History of Silver
Silver has been used for many purposes in the history of mankind. Silver ornaments have been found at various archaeological sites. This element was used in the form of money, and silver cutlery and crockery is still used for its antibacterial properties. In the new world, it was first used in making coins, in Britain and then in USA. These coins were later replaced by gold, as silver had many other uses too.
This element was first mined in the beginning of 4,000 B.C. in Anatolia, which is known as modern Turkey. The name ‘silver’ has been derived from the Anglo-Saxon term seolfor. Slag heaps of this metal were found in Asia Minor on some Greek islands, indicating that silver was in use since a long time. References to this element have also been made in the Bible.
Around 3000 B.C., a civilization called Sumeria existed in the Mesopotamian regions. In the cities belonging to this civilization, silver was used extensively in the form of coins, jewelry, utensils, etc. Several such artifacts have been excavated, and have been dated by using many techniques. Silver was discovered in Mexico around the 15th century A.D. Numerous mines were set up in many other countries in these regions of Central America. Nations like Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico supplied 85% of the world’s silver from 1,500 to 1,800 A.D.
According to some studies, it can be said that silver was discovered mostly in ancient Egypt, way before being used in Asia minor, around 6,000 B.C. This research is based on the studies of several cave paintings, which showed the Egyptians mining silver using various extraction processes that were possible at that time. After 3,000 B.C, information about this shiny element spread across the world, and in around 1,000 B.C., silver and its compounds were being used in India, and also in the rest of the subcontinent.
Simply put, the knowledge about silver and its mining techniques started spreading towards the eastern regions of the world. Soon, the Chinese started using this element. It might have been discovered in the form of its various alloys like sterling silver and electrum. The former is a combination of copper and silver, and has been in use prior to the 15th century. The latter is a natural alloy of gold and silver and was used by the ancient Greeks in the form of coins. This alloy also contains trace amounts of copper and various other elements.
In 500 B.C., an enormous silver mine was found in Athens, which led to its rise as a powerful state. The silver mines in Spain were used during the bronze age. Carthaginians took over the mines, and paid the Romans through the income generated via these mines. Later, the mines were taken over by the Romans, and were used to fund their future conquests.
In China too, silver has been used since ages. The kings and emperors of the Chinese kingdom utilized this element in the form of medicines, as it is known to have antibacterial properties. Later, it was used as a way of payment during trading with other Western countries like Britain. Silver coins were used by the Chinese merchants in exchange of agricultural products, spices, silk, ceramic artifacts, etc.
Random Facts about Silver
- It is known to have antibacterial and antiviral properties, and hence, its use in making utensils was popular.
- In the 1900s, women used to put silver coins in milk bottles to prevent the milk from spoiling.
- Silver is one of the best conductors of heat and electricity.
- The Lydians used the first silver coins in 700 B.C.
- Mexico is the largest producer of this element.
- In the ancient times, silver was more valuable than gold.
- Other than jewelry, silver is also used in photography.
This metal has been known to man since ages, and has played a major role in the development of civilizations. It has some religious significance too. It is often associated with lunar influence, and is considered to denote anything that is creative, flexible, and emotionally centered.