XXmet-alz (Latin metallum, "metal," "mine"; Greek metallon, "mine"): The metals known by the ancients were copper, gold, iron, lead, silver and tin. Of these copper, gold and silver were probably first used, because, occurring in a metallic state, they could be separated easily from earthy materials by mechanical processes. Evidence is abundant of the use of these three metals by the people of remotest antiquity. Lead and tin were later separated from their ores. Tin was probably used in making bronze before it was known as a separate metal, because the native oxide, cassiterite, was smelted together with the copper ore to get bronze. Because of the difficulties in getting it separated from its compounds, iron was the last in the list to be employed. In regard to the sources of these metals in Bible times we have few Biblical references to guide us. Some writers point to Dt 8:9, "a land whose stones are iron," etc., as referring to Israel. Israel can be disregarded, however, as a sourc e of metals, for it possesses no mineral deposits of any importance. If it was expected that Israel would possess Lebanon also, then the description would be more true. There is some iron ore which was in ancient times worked, although present-day engineers have declared it not to be extensive enough to pay for working. There is a little copper ore (chalcopyrite, malachite, azurite). In the Anti-Lebanon and Northern Syria, especially in the country East of Aleppo now opened up by the Bagdad Railroad and its branches, there are abundant deposits of copper. This must have been the land of Nuhasse referred to in the Tell el-Amarna Letters. If Zec 6:1 is really a reference to copper, which is doubtful, then the last-mentioned source was probably the one referred to. No doubt Cyprus (Alasia in Tell el-Amarna Letters (?)) furnished the ancients with much copper, as did also the Sinaitic peninsula.
Tarshish is mentioned (Ezek 27:12) as a source of silver, iron, tin, and lead. This name may belong to Southern Spain. If so it corresponds to the general belief that the Phoenicians brought a considerable proportion of the metals used in Israel from that country. Havilah (Gen 2:11), Ophir (1 Ki 10:11), Sheba (Ps 72:15) are mentioned as sources of gold. These names probably refer to districts of Arabia. Whether Arabia produced all the gold or simply passed it on from more remote sources is a question.
From the monuments in Egypt we learn that that country was a producer of gold and silver. In fact, the ancient mines and the ruins of the miners huts are still to be seen in the desert regions of upper Egypt. In the Sinaitic peninsula are deposits of copper, lead, gold, and silver. The most remarkable of the ancient Egyptian mines are situated here (J. Sarabit el Khadim, U. Sidreh, W. Magharah). The early Egyptian kings (Sneferu, Amenemhat II, and others) not only mined the metals, but cut on the walls of the mines inscriptions describing their methods of mining. Here, as in upper Egypt, are remains of the buildings where miners lived or carried out their metallurgical operations. It is hardly to be conceived that the large deposits of lead (galena) in Asia Minor were unworked by the ancients. No nearer deports of tin than those in Southeastern Europe have yet been found. (For further information on metals see separate articles.)
James A. Patch