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1.1: The Importance of Minerals

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    1.2 Bedrock on the California coast with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background

    Minerals are our planet. They form the Earth and the bedrock that we live on, making up all of Earth’s rocks and sediments, and they are important components in soils. So, they literally are the foundations for our lives. Perhaps because they are ubiquitous, most people don’t even notice them or consider that all rock is made of minerals. But, engineers do because building a bridge or other structure on unstable material, or using poor ingredients for construction of all sorts, would lead to disasters. And, farmers care about minerals because healthy soils produce great crops. Petrologists who study rocks of all sorts need to know about minerals. And others who use resources in manufacturing need minerals. So, the world’s people rely on minerals. And, minerals, mineral production, and the study of minerals are absolutely essential to maintain our lifestyles.

    1.3 Bronze Age spearheads and ferrules

    The use and processing of minerals goes back more than 4,000 years. In fact, archaeologists and anthropologists define major periods of early human civilization based on mineral resources that were used. The late Stone Age, also called the Neolithic Age, was followed by the Chalcolithic Age from 4,500 to 3,500 BCE (Before Common Era) when people started using native copper to make tools and other artifacts. The Bronze Age that followed the Chalcolithic Age began in the Mesopotamian civilization of Sumeria and lasted from 4,200 to 1,000 BCE. During this time people combined mineralogical tin and copper and the result was bronze – a metal alloy that was stronger and more durable than copper. Some early cultures progressed to the Chalcolithic and Bronze Ages before others; even today, some Stone Age cultures still exist. Figure 1.3 shows some Bronze Age artifacts.

    The Iron Age followed the Bronze Age, beginning around 1,500 BCE, when the Hittite society of ancient Anatolia (modern day Turkey) discovered how to smelt iron. The iron came from native iron in meteorites that also contained small amounts of nickel. Fortuitously, the nickel produced an alloy superior to pure iron. So, copper, tin, iron, and nickel were all important during the early ages of humans. They are equally important today. These metals – and many others – are key parts of a seemingly infinite number of products we use every day. The metals come from minerals.

    Ask most people today why minerals are important, and they will probably mention diamonds and other gems, or perhaps precious metals such as gold or silver. Gems and gold are important, but other minerals resources are equally, or substantially more, important. Highways and buildings, fertilizers, cars, jewelry, computers and other electronic devices, kitchenware, salt, magazines, vitamins and medicines, and just about everything that supports modern living require mineral resources for production. We are addicted to minerals and related commodities.

    This page titled 1.1: The Importance of Minerals is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Dexter Perkins via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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