Lead is an element classified as a heavy metal. It is malleable and soft. Lead changes color depending on its state. When you cut a piece of lead in half, it looks bluish white. Exposure to air causes it to turn a grey. When melted, lead has a silvery look like chrome. No one knows who discovered lead, but it probably made them sick. Like another heavy metal, mercury, lead is poisonous.
History of Lead
Lead is a fairly common and easy to extract metal. Its use was widespread in Europe and the Mediterranean. Lead was probably discovered along with silver, with which it is often mixed. Silver slag have been recovered along the Aegean Sea dating back several thousand years BC. Early evidence of lead include lead beads from 6400 BC in Turkey, and verse 15:10 of the Book of Exodus. Lead was also discovered independently by the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Chinese.
Mining for lea is a dangerous business. The Greeks and Romans knew this as well as we do now. Because lead is poisonous, miners would die from constant exposure after only a few years. Naturally freemen didn’t want to handle raw lead. They forced their slaves and prisoners to do it.
The Romans used lead for baths and plumbing. In fact the modern word plumber comes from the Latin “plumbum” for soft metal. Originally the Romans distinguished between lead and tin as “black plumbum” and “white plumbum” respectively. They also used lead pots or copper kettles line with lead for making wine. The Romans found many uses for lead: for pipes, dishes, coins, gladiator knuckles, beauty products and they even used it to flavor their food.
Symbolism of Lead
Lead was associated with the planet Saturn and the earth. It was a base metal opposite the noble metals gold and silver. In alchemy it symbolized the material body as a prison of the spirit. It was believed that lead could be transformed into gold through magical means. This belief goes back farther than the Middle Ages when alchemy was known as a pseudo-science. In earlier times, the Romans held that Saturn was the god of the Golden Age, suggesting the same belief: that lead can be turned into gold.
Saturn was also a god of bad luck. Witches and sorcerers would strike objects made of lead to curse people.
Uses of Lead
Lead has many uses. It is the heaviest stable atom in the world. Because it is so dense, lead is used to add weight to fishing nets, diving gear and anchors. True to its evil reputation in ancient times, lead makes a good bullet. Its heavy weight gives it momentum when shot off a gun. Lead is also used in building construction, batteries, pewter, solder, ceramic coloring, radiation shielding, organ pipes and tennis racquets.