Chemical Element: copper

(Modern Latin: chemical element; from Latin, cuprum, referring to the island of Cyprus; metal)

Chemical-Element Information

Symbol: Cu
Atomic number: 29
Year discovered: Known since ancient times

Discovered by: Unknown

The discovery of copper dates from prehistoric times.

  • There are reports of copper beads dating back to 9000 B.C. found in Iraq.
  • Methods for refining copper from its ores were discovered around 5000 B.C. and a 1000 or so years later it was being used in pottery in North Africa.
  • Part of the reason for use so early in history is simply that it was relatively easy to shape.
  • It is somewhat too soft for many tools so about 5000 years ago it was discovered that when copper is mixed with other metals the resulting alloys are harder than copper itself.
  • As examples, brass is a mixture of copper and zinc while bronze is a mixture of copper and tin.
  • About 3000 B.C., copper was produced extensively on the island of Cyprus.
  • These copper deposits were so great and so highly prized that control of the island passed in succession to the Egyptians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Persians, and the Romans.
  • The Roman supply of the metal came almost entirely from Cyprus, and the material was known as aes cyprium (“ore of Cyprus”), which was shortened to cyprium and later corrupted to cuprum.
  • From this term comes the English name "copper".
  • The first two letters of the Latin name, of course, constitute the chemical symbol Cu for "copper".

Name in other languages:

French: cuivre

German: Kupfer

Italian: rame

Spanish: cobre

Information about other elements may be seen at this Chemical Elements List.

A special unit about words that include chemo-, chem- may be seen here.

A special unit about "copper" words from cupr-, cupro-, cupri- are available.