1.1 What is Chemistry?

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http://www.ck12.org Chapter 1. Introduction to Chemistry

Another area of chemistry that was highly developed by the early Egyptians was metallurgy. Beginning in about 3400
B.C., records show a highly developed technology for refining copper, gold, iron, and other metals. Although the
reasons these techniques worked were not fully understood, the refiners were able to produce high-quality materials
that were used in jewelry, decorations, and money.

Glass production also appears to have been first developed by the Egyptians (seeFigure1.1). A number of tomb
paintings show glass-blowing and the manufacturing of glass products. The glass was often colored, suggesting an
understanding of the use of dyes for decoration.


This ancient Egyptian glass jar is over 3000 years old.

Various types of medicines were also discovered by many ancient people. Records from civilizations around the
world show that certain plants were used for healing specific disorders and for dealing with pain. The earliest
medical “textbook” consisted of hundreds of clay tablets found in Mesopotamia, dating from about 2600 B.C. These
tablets had information about thousands of plants and plant materials that had beneficial effects. An Egyptian papyrus
from around 1550 B.C had over 800 prescriptions and 700 natural materials that were used for medical treatment
(seeFigure1.2). The famous Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) wrote about using lemon juice as a
laxative and an extract from the belladonna plant as an anesthetic. Indian writings from around 900 B.C. describe
the preparations of over 300 different medicines. Traditional Chinese medicine has records from 350 B.C. that
describe over 240 medicinal preparations and 150 drug combinations used to treat various ailments. Oral traditions
from both North and South America also describe preparations used for healing. Some South American tribes used
the venom from specific frogs (usually very brightly colored ones) for poisons. The chemical properties of these
substances was not understood at the time, but chemical techniques were often used to isolate and purify various
useful materials.

The Rise and Fall of the Alchemists

One area of technology present in all of the societies we have mentioned was metallurgy. Properly refined metals
could be made into useful tools that could last a long time. Weapons could stay sharp longer with improved metals.
Additionally, precious metals such as gold and silver could be refined and used in jewelry or as money. Because
it was fairly rare, gold was considered to be very valuable and became a common means of paying for goods and

We don’t know exactly when humans began mining for gold. Items made from gold have been found in Bulgarian
graves that are over 7000 years old. Archaeological studies show clear evidence of gold mining in many parts
of the world from over 4000 years ago. During the time of the Roman Empire, the Romans had developed very
sophisticated methods for extracting gold from the earth.

However, mining for gold is a slow, dirty, and dangerous process. Additionally, not everyone owns a gold mine –in

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