Prehistoric Times -
Beginning of the Christian Era
* 1700 BC King Hammurabi's reign over Babylon
In ancient Babylon King Hammmurabbi began to classify metals such as gold , iron, and copper. He also gave certain materials higher value than others, depending on the potential of the material. Known metals were recorded and listed in conjunction with heavenly bodies. 430 BC Democritus of ancient Greece
Democritus and the atom: c.420 BC
In the late 5th century BC Democritus sets out an interesting theory of elemental physics. Notions of a similar kind have been hinted at by other Greek thinkers, but never so fully elaborated.
He states that all matter is composed of eternal, indivisible, indestructible and infinitely small substances which cling together in different combinations to form the objects perceptible to us. The Greek word for indivisible is atomos. This theory gives birth to the atom.
Democritus was a Greek philosopher who lived between 470-380 BC He is the Greek to whom the conception of the Atomic theory is attributed. Democritus proclaims the atom to be the simplest unit of matter. All matter was composed of atoms.
Aristotle's variable atoms: 4th century BC
Aristotle, practical as ever in his determination to get things worked out in detail, proposes a new theory to explain how the four elements of Empedocles and the atoms of Democritus produce the wide range of substances apprehended by our senses.
He declares the existence of only four elements: fire, air, water and earth. All matter is made up of these four elements and matter had four properties: hot, cold, dry and wet.
Greek science in Alexandria: from the 3rd century BC
Classical Greece has produced a brilliant tradition of theorists, the dreamers of science. Attracted by the intellectual appeal of good theories, they are disinclined to engage in the manual labour of the laboratory where those theories might be tested.
This limitation is removed when the centre of the Greek world transfers, in the 3rd century BC, to Alexandria. In this bustling commercial centre, linked with long Egyptian traditions of skilled work in precious metals, people are interested in making practical use of Greek scientific theory. IfAristotlesays that the difference in material substances is a matter of balance, then that balance might be changed. Copper might become gold.
Among the practical scientists of Alexandria are men who can be seen as the first alchemists and the first experimental chemists. Their trade, as workers in precious metals, involves melting gold and silver, mixing alloys, changing the colour of metals by mysterious process.
These are the activities of chemistry. The everyday items of a chemical laboratory - stills, furnaces, flasks - are all in use in Alexandria.
There are strong mystical influences in Egypt, some of them deriving from Babylonianastrology, and this tradition too encourages experiment. Astrologers believe in many hierarchies, among the planets in the heavens but also among metals in the earth. Lead is the lowest of the metals, gold the highest. Left to itself, out of sight in the earth, lead may slowly be transformed up the scale to achieve ultimate perfection as gold.
If this process could be accelerated, in the back of a jeweller's shop, there would be certain immediate advantages. In the early centuries, the experiments of chemistry and alchemy go hand in hand.
Beginning of the Christian Era -
End of 17th Century (Alchemy)
The Advent of the Alchemists
Influenced greatly by Aristotle's ideas, alchemists attempted to transmute cheap metals to gold. The substance used for this conversion was called the Philosopher's Stone.
13th Century (1200's) - 15th Century (1400's) Failure of the GoldBusiness Although Pope John XXII issued an edict against gold-making, the gold business continued. Despite the alchemists' efforts, transmutation of cheap metals to gold never...
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