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Copper is a reddish brown nonferrous mineral which has been used for thousands of years by many cultures. The metal is closely related with silver and gold, with many properties being shared among these metals. Modern life has a number of applications for copper, ranging from coins to pigments, and demand for the metal remains high, especially in industrialized nations. Many consumers interact with it in various forms on a daily basis.
Archaeological evidence suggests that copper is among the earliest metals used by humans. Numerous digs all over the world indicate that it was used to make utensils, jewelry, and weapons. The metal is highly ductile, meaning that it can be easily worked and pulled into wire. For cultures which had minimal or crude metalworking abilities, it would have been easy to shape and work with. It is also easy to alloy, and many of the early metal alloys featured this metal.
The name for the metal comes from Kyprios, the Ancient Greek name for Cyprus, an island which had highly productive copper mines in the Ancient world. Its atomic number is 29, placing it among the transition metals. The metal is highly conductive of both electricity and heat, and many of its uses take advantage of this quality. Copper can be found in numerous electronics and in wiring. It is also used to make cooking pots. This metal is also relatively corrosion resistant, since it forms a patina which resists oxidation. For this reason, it's often mixed with other metals to form alloys such as bronze and brass.
In addition to being useful in manufacturing, copper is also a vital dietary nutrient, although only small amounts of the metal are needed for well-being. It appears in several enzymes, facilitates the absorption of iron, and helps to transmit electrical signals in the body. In high doses, however, the metal can be extremely toxic. Copper can also saturate the water and soil, posing risks to wildlife. On a more benign level, it can stain clothing and flesh, as many people have probably noticed.
In a natural state, copper is rarely found pure. It is compounded with other elements, and the material must be treated before it can be sold. This can lead to serious environmental problems, especially when mining companies engage in unsound practices. The chemicals used to extract the metal can be toxic, as can the discarded elements and runoff associated with its purification. Many countries attempt to regulate their copper industries to prevent widespread pollution and the problems associated with it.