Metallurgy is the study of metals and metal mixtures, called alloys. Ancient metallurgy was based mainly on folklore and trial and error. Modern metallurgy is based in science and essential for producing the metals on which modern-day society depends.
The first known use of metals by humans occurred in the late Paleolithic period. Gold, silver, copper and tin were among some of the first metals extracted and used in ancient times. The discovery that the mixing of copper and tin produces a stronger metal, bronze, ushered in the Bronze Age around 3500 B.C. The next major advancement in metallurgy occurred around 1200 B.C. with the discovery of new techniques to extract iron from its ore, commencing the Iron Age.
Modern civilization depends on strong metals, including enormous amounts of steel, copper and aluminum used to make skyscrapers, automobiles, bridges, and an array of consumer products. Metallurgists work to develop better techniques to extract metals from their ores and to produce metals more efficiently, balancing often competing objectives such as cost, weight, strength and the ability to perform in temperature extremes. Recent advances in metallurgy have led to the ability of engineers to extract the titanium and zirconium used in spacecraft.