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(Since copper ore often contains arsenic, this may have been the unintentional result of smelting copper ore that included naturally occurring arsenic.) This alloy of copper with arsenic or tin is called bronze, and there is archeological evidence that the Egyptians first produced bronze in 4,000 B. Bronze may have also been developed independently in other parts of the Middle East and other parts of the world.Regardless of where it originated, bronze metallurgy soon overtook copper in many parts of the globe, thus ushering in the Bronze Age.As people began using bronze instead of pure copper to make weapons and tools, trade in tin developed.The availability of bronze led to more advanced tool and weapon making, and with better weapons, armies could better conquer neighboring societies (and plunder their tin and copper resources).By comparing the purity of copper artifacts from both Mesopotamia and Egypt, scientists have determined that the Egyptians improved upon the smelting methods of their northern neighbors in Mesopotamia.Most copper items in Egypt were produced by casting molten copper in molds.As they got better at working with it, civilizations became more complex, which in turn often enabled better copper-working technology.
The mold is broken off when the metal is cool.) The Egyptians may have been the first group to discover that mixing copper with arsenic or tin made a stronger, harder metal better suited for weapons and tools and more easily cast in molds than pure copper.
Early-Middle Bronze Age (2700-1600 BCE) bronze rat-tang dagger blade from Cyprus.
Credit: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College; Bequest of Emily Howe-Hitchcock The island of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean was a major destination for European and Middle Eastern Bronze Age people looking to buy or loot copper.
Archaeological evidence suggests that copper was first used between 8,000 and 5,000 B.
C., most likely in the regions known now as Turkey, Iran, Iraq and toward the end of that period the Indian subcontinent.Annealing was the first step toward true metallurgy, when people discovered that copper became more flexible and easy to work with when it was heated before hammering.Next, casting of molten copper into molds was developed.(In parts of the world that lacked deposits of tin, copper was used alone or alloyed with other metals until iron was introduced.) The smelting process for bronze made with arsenic would have produced poisonous fumes.