The Early History of Elements and the Development of the Periodic Table
In ancient times, people observed and used certain elements that occurred naturally in their environment. Nine elements, including carbon, sulfur, iron, copper, silver, tin, gold, mercury, and lead, were known even before recorded history. These elements were found in their pure form and could be easily obtained using basic tools.
Around 330 BCE, the Greek philosopher Aristotle proposed the idea that everything is made up of a combination of one or more fundamental substances, which he called “roots.” This concept was initially suggested by the philosopher Empedocles. Aristotle identified four roots or elements: earth, water, air, and fire. These four elements were also recognized in other ancient traditions, including Indian philosophy.
During the age of alchemy, a few additional elements were discovered, including zinc, arsenic, antimony, and bismuth. Pre-Columbian South Americans were familiar with the element platinum, but its knowledge did not reach Europe until the 16th century.
These early observations and understandings of the elements laid the foundation for the development of modern chemistry and the periodic table. Over time, as scientific knowledge advanced, more elements were discovered, and our understanding of their properties and behaviors expanded. The study of the elements continues to evolve, thanks to the contributions of scientists throughout history.
It was not until the emergence of modern chemistry that the concept of elements began to take shape. Alchemists, driven by the pursuit of transmutation and the search for the philosopher’s stone, conducted experiments and made observations that contributed to the development of scientific methodology.
The Philosopher’s Stone – a mythical substance supposed to change any metal into gold or silver and, according to some, to cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely. Its discovery was the supreme object of alchemy.