The most revealing insight about the importance of material is brought home by studying prehistory. i.e. the progress of mankind before the era of recorded history. This prehistorical period is divided into

following five ages on the basis of the materials which the mankind had learnt to use:

(i) Old stone age (paleolithic age),

(ii) New stone age (neolithic age),

(iii) Copper age,

(iv) Bronze age, and

(v) Iron age.

In the old stone age, man employed stone for making rough tools for his use. He would chip off small stone pieces from granite or flint rocks and select suitably shaped pieces with sharp edges for use as knives or scrapers. He was also familiar with use of bones and animal hides. In the new stone age, man learnt to make polished stone tools, and sharpening their edges by rubbing them against other rocks.

Gradually, man became familiar with noble metals like gold and silver probably because they were found in nature in native (that is in pure form) state. He used them for jewellery and decorative purposes, but being soft, such metals could not be used to make tools. In ancient Egypt, beautiful funerary masks of gold were buried along with ‘‘mummies’’.

Next important discovery by man was of copper. Melting point of copper is 1083°C and that of its ores lower still. Man must have discovered copper by sheer accident as bonfires must have been lit and a lump of copper ore must have got reduced to copper. With discovery of copper, man could now make axes and other tools of copper.

The ‘‘mummy’’ of a hunter, who fell into an alpine ditch between the borders of modern Italy and Austria some 5 to 6 thousand years ago (but did not decompose being buried in snow) was found recently. Among his possessions, a copper axe was found in almost pristine condition. In India, in the vedic text, copper has been treated as a sacred metal, the implements/vessels used to perform a ‘Yagna’ are of copper.

Bronze was the next metallic alloy to be discovered, again by sheer accident. This time the ore contained copper as well as some tin. Bronze is much harder and stronger than copper and soon tools as well as weapons were fashioned out of bronze instead of copper. Tribes having access to bronze weapons could subjudicate others who did not possess bronze weaponry.

Iron was the last to be discovered, because the high melting point of iron needed a very effective furnace which could generate temperature of 1500–1600°C. The discovery of iron is generally attributed to the race of Hittites, who lived in what is today called asia minor. Hittites kept the secret of making iron to themselves (members of tribe were warned on the pain of death not to divulge this secret to others). With swords made of iron, they could cut the weapons of their enemies. Hittites defeated even the powerful Egyptian army.

The above brief description should convey to the reader the importance of materials in no uncertain terms. The fate of kingdoms depended upon their knowledge of materials and metallurgy in the same way as today, power of nations comes from their possession of nuclear weapons.

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