Copper: The Most Relevant Metal in History

Apart from being a leading industrial raw material, copper is also a nutritional mineral. Our body needs it in trace amounts for healthy functioning. In this article, we will discuss copper’s significance in all aspects. But first, let’s have a look at its geological formation process.

Formation of Copper

Humans have been using copper since time immemorial. After thousands of years, copper is still one of the most relevant metallic minerals. Its various physical and chemical properties expand its scope as an industrial material. In the US alone, copper is the most used metallic mineral after iron and aluminum.

Copper like other metallic minerals is found in the ores of sedimentary rocks. According to geological studies, copper from the earth’s magma is trapped in the compressed layers of mud and sand that later forms sedimentary rocks. The presence of volcanoes gives a good start to mineralogist for copper prospecting since it indicates the abundance of sedimentary layers close to the earth’s surface.

How Much Copper is Present in the Earth’s Crust?

With modern prospecting techniques and studies, geologists have estimated that around 5 trillion pounds of copper is present in the sedimentary layers of the earth’s crust and only 12% of it has been mined until now. So, it is safe to say that we still have plenty of this useful mineral at our disposal.

Historical Account of Copper Use

Mineralogists and historians are in agreement that copper is the most ancient known metal in human history. It is believed that Neolithic people started using copper as a replacement for stones around 9000 B.C. The carbon dating of a copper pendant excavated in Northern Iraq has substantiated this assertion because the pendant in question originates from 8700 B.C!

Egyptians: The Pioneers of Mass-Scale Copper Use

It’s a widely known fact that the ancient Egyptian civilization was way ahead of its time. Historians believe that Egyptians formally started the metallurgical use of copper around 4,000 B.C.  They were the first to make copper alloys by mixing it with other metals.

From water vessels to razors and chisels, Egyptians molded copper in several everyday tools. It is believed that copper chisels were used to facet and smooth limestone blocks used in the construction of the pyramids.

Greeks Brought Copper to Battlefields

After Egyptians, the Greeks also mainstreamed the use of copper. They were the first ones to use this mineral in the manufacturing of weapons and armors. Greeks also introduced copper kitchenware. They started using copper pots for cooking and storing water. They believed that copper had antiseptic qualities. Later on, scientific studies proved that copper surfaces prevent the growth of pathogens.  

Copper: The Latin Etymology

Like other thriving civilizations, the Romans also adopted the use of copper. They used to mine it in Cyprus and therefore called it ‘aes Cyprium’ which means ‘metal of Cyprus’ in Latin. The term was later abridged to Cyprium. It was further morphed into ‘Coprum’, which eventually became ‘Copper’ in English.

In the old days, copper coins were used as an international currency. Traders all over the world would do business through the coins made out of copper and its alloys. Even today, the dime, quarter, and half dollar coins contain more than 90% copper.

Interesting Connection between Denim Jeans and Copper

In 1873, a customer complained to a Nevada tailor that his pants pockets kept on tearing.  The tailor came up with the solution to embed copper rivets as a way of reinforcing the pockets and other stress points on the pants. The solution became so popular that it went on to become a standard for the majority of Jeans brands all over the world.

Nutritional and Medical Importance of Copper

Modern medical studies have highlighted the importance of copper as a trace nutrient. According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the US National Academy of Science, around 0.9 mg of copper must be part of the daily dietary consumption of adult males and females. Studies have proven many roles of copper within the body.

  • It plays an important role in the formation of red blood cells
  • The normal growth and development of connective tissues and bones is dependent on copper traces
  • Copper acts as a catalyst in the formation of vital proteins

Apart from these major growth activities, copper along with other micronutrients plays an integral role in many other physiological reactions as well.

Antimicrobial Attributes of Copper

As mentioned earlier, copper is inherently resistant to pathogen growth. Therefore, the CDC has recommended the use of copper surfaces in hospitals to prevent the spread of infections. It is important to mention here that nearly 2 million US citizens are infected every year from pathogens lingering in hospitals.

Industrial Use of Copper

We all are well aware of the extensive use of Copper in the industrial sector. From large electrical infrastructures to small electronic items, copper is used everywhere. There are various functional reasons why copper is a major industrial item.

  • Copper shows great ductility and malleability characteristics. This means it’s possible to mold it into different shapes and structures without fracturing it. For that matter, the manufacturing of copper items is not complex and expensive.
  • The good conductance value of copper makes it a perfect choice for electrical uses. All around the world, the majority of electricity distribution networks for consumers consist of copper transmission wires.
  • Copper is an economical option. As discussed earlier, it’s abundantly present within the earth’s crust. Moreover, its recycling value also makes it beneficial for industries. Nearly 45% of copper consumption of the US is now fulfilled with recycled copper.

Before we conclude this article, it is worth mentioning that copper also had an architectural significance once. Egyptians used it to clad doors and windows. A 300 BC temple in Sri Lanka has a roof laden with copper shingles. Copper also became popular in European architectural designs during medieval times. Although not a major component of architectural designs anymore, it doesn’t change the fact that it has always been a relevant mineral and will continue to be.

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