Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Timeline of Developmental Alchemy

Posted by Fredsvenn on March 20, 2015

200,000 BP: Sometime during the Middle-Pleistocene, man encountered the first ternary alchemical reaction in the form of fire.

26,000 BP: Around 26,000 years ago, this new chemical technology gave rise to humanity’s first great alchemical transmutation; with the aid of fire man learned that he could magically transmute soft wet clay into dry hard stone and thus developed earthenware pottery and the use of kilns and ovens.

9,000 to 8,000 BCE: The earliest evidence of native copper exploited by humans in Sumeria and southern Anatolia, modern Turkey, at the Neolithic settlement of Çayönü Tepesi, situated at the foot of the Taurus Mountains near the upper Tigris River.

During this period, copper metallurgy reached technological breakthroughs in basic cold and heat hammering, annealing, melting and casting. The word for copper in Sumerian is urudu, which was also the name of the Euphrates River (Copper River). The word for stibnite makeup in Sumerian was šembi, whereas gùnu or gùn was the verb form meaning to apply šembi to the eyes or face.

7,000 to 1,500 BCE: Copper thoroughly dominated metallurgy.

7,000 BCE: Evidence of the earliest use of lead in the Near East.

6,000 BCE or earlier: Evidence of the earliest gold technology in Turkey and the Middle East.

5,000 BCE or earlier: Crucible smelting developed in Iran, Northern Mesopotamia, Central Europe, the Balkans and Greece. Silver-antimonial bronzes from the Bell-Beaker culture of the Carpathian region were some of the recurrent prehistoric bronzes and were likely precursors to gold-antimonial bronze and Corinthian bronze of Greek traditions. Antimony-bearing arsenical bronze craft appeared on the Iranian plateau. The earliest evidence for the use of silver in the Middle East and iron in Egypt dates to this period.

4,500 BCE: Copper smelting and foundry sites began to crop up in Jordan and around the Dead Sea ushering in complex crucible technologies.

4,200 BCE: Egyptians began mining malachite copper ore by exploiting Midianite and Amalekite labor at Timna in the Sinai. Near the high place of offering at Timna, the earliest furnaces for reducing malachite to copper were established.

4,000 BCE: Refined copper smelting and solid glass beads were manufactured in Egypt. The area from the Dead Sea in the East to Gaza in the west and south into the Sinai as far as Timna became the homeland of proto-industrial bronze metallurgy. Early copper finds in Mesopotamia at Tepe Gawra and slightly later in Iran at Tepe Yahya date from this period.

3,750 BCE: Prestige and ceremonial antimonial bronze artifacts from the Nahal Mishmar horde, possibly linked to the Ghassulian Temple of Ein Gedi contain up to 12% antimony. Ghassulian antimony was sourced from Ghebi in the southern Caucasus Mountains, intentionally imported and specifically employed to create the 416 cupreous religious artifacts for use in Ghassulian rituals. The earliest evidence for the use of carbon in metallurgy in Mesopotamia and Egypt dates to this period.

3,500 BCE: Artisanal crucible smelting gave way to the more industrial bowl-furnace. Earliest examples of the deliberate tin-bronze production appeared near Ur of Chaldea at al ‘Ubaid.

3,000 BCE: Evidence of Babylonian gilding technologies found at the Royal Tombs at Ur date from this period.

2,500 BCE: The oldest trace of occupation at the Hathor Temple at Serabít el-Khâdim includes a statue date back to the reign of Sneferu from this period.

1,700 BCE: Earliest Assyrian glassmaking cuneiform tablets from this period reveal an interrelationship between the priesthood, glassmaking as a temple craft, a guild of workers with specialized knowledge and the use of jargon and cover-terms.

1,833 to 1,156 BCE: Hathor Temple at Serabít el-Khâdim was active with mining and metallurgy. Each Pharaoh enlarged the complex, beginning with Amenemhat III and concluding with inscriptions from the Ramses VI reign. Biblical Moses is hypothesized to have practiced antimonial bronze technology sometime during this period.

1,500 BCE: Arsenical and antimonial bronze as it pertains to alchemy diverged or branched off from utilitarian tin-bronze.

1,549 – 1,297 BCE: The most accomplished Egyptian glasses from the 18th dynasty were very nearly transparent indicating an already high degree of sophistication.

1,450 to 1,200 BCE: Canaanite literature from Ugarit, modern Syria, preserved a poem that provides insight into ritualized gold and silver making with references to the Canaanite (Kenite) god of metallurgists and their supreme deity El-Elyon.

668 to 626 BCE: Glassmaking manuals existed alongside Assyrian chemical dictionaries. Some glassmaking texts were copies of originals kept at the Royal Library at Nineveh and the adjacent Temple of Nabu. Included in these was a recipe for the production of [bah]-ri-e, interpreted by R. Campbell Thompson to be a type of decorative crystallin glass or artificial gem called Red Coral. Use of gold and antimony together first recorded in this recipe.

7th century BCE: Hesiod mentions aurichalcum in a Homeric hymn, interpreted here as an early term synonymous with antimonial or Corinthian bronze. By this time, antimonial bronze technology in Europe, around the Mediterranean, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the Iranian plateau and the Levant was already over 2,000 years old.

5th century BCE: Herodotus wrote Histories in which he recorded an account of the Libyan salt trade in connection with the established trans-Saharan caravan route linked by a series of oases. The first two stops were famed for salt of Amun and Augila, known historically and today as sal ammoniac. Biblical Ezra describes a “fine bright bronze as precious as gold” during this period.

5th to late 4th centuries BCE:Ostanes, Persian magus who accompanied Xerxes on his invasion of Greece, reputedly introduced the Magic Arts to the Greeks. His tradition was typically credited as being studied by traveling Greek scholars such as Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus and Plato among others.

400 BCE: Wenamun recorded his travels, populated the Siwa Oasis and established the Temple of Amun.

c. 460 to c. 370 BCE: Democritus, Greek polymath and philosopher, traveled to Egypt and extensively throughout ancient Near East and Persia, and according to Cicero and Strabo as far as India to the east and Ethiopia to the south. He is typically portrayed as having studied Chaldean Magic in the tradition of Ostanes. He is credited as formulating the first atomic theory of the universe and according to Celsus and Hippocrates as being the teacher of Bolus of Mendes.

356 to 323 BCE: Aristotle, student of Plato for nineteen years, left Athens and tutored Alexander the Great. He is credited as the first genuine scientist in history. His five-element theory, four-cause theory, and metaphysics of abstraction and change as it relates to substance, potentiality and actuality were influential to all alchemical traditions.

332 BCE: Alexander the Great liberates Egypt, consulted the oracle at the Temple of Amun at Siwa and established Alexandria and the Ptolemaic dynasty.

3rd century BCE: Bolus of Mendes worked in Ptolemaic Egypt and wrote of magic, natural medical remedies and astronomical phenomena. He is typically portrayed as having studied with Democritus.

20 BCE: Herod completely rebuilt and enlarged the Second Temple of Jerusalem and outfitted it with massive pillars that featured pillar-caps and gates of Corinthian bronze manufactured and shipped from Alexandria.

1st century CE: Josephus described Corinthian bronze crafted in Alexandria at Herod’s command and shipped to Jerusalem.

1st to 3rd centuries CE: Maria Hebrea’s Judeo-Egyptian school of chrysopœia flourished during this period. Zosimus attributed the discovery of numerous alchemical equipment, the production of divine water and the secret of gold-making to her. Most of her original works are non-extant. Other alchemists in this tradition such as Comarius, Moses, Cleopatra and Isis among others (all alchemical pseudonyms) were active during this period.

The Tincture of the Philosophers, the archetypal Ars Brevis and Ars Magna recipes to confect the Philosophers’ Stone originated with this school. The Philosophers’ Stone during this period was valued primarily as a trade secret and essential ingredient to creating alchemical gold and silver, Corinthian Bronze.

2nd century CE: Pseudo-Democritus’ Persian-Egyptian style gilding school flourished. He authored Physical and Mystical Matters that preserved recipes for the manufacture of imitation gold and silver by surface-treatment and alloying technologies.

2nd to 3rd centuries CE: The Hermetica, an intellectually eclectic collection of Greco-Egyptian texts also known as the Corpus Hermeticum, was compiled and addressed divinity, mind, nature, alchemy, astrology and spiritual transcendence. The Emerald Tablet of Hermes and the archetypal White Stone of Hermes / Philosophers’ Mercury may have either influenced or originated with this movement.

269 CE: Zenobia proclaimed herself Queen of Egypt. She was defeated and taken hostage by Emperor Aurelian five years later in 274 CE.

292 to 298 CE: Diocletian secured control of Alexandria and issued an edict to destroy all works and books that addressed the Chi̱meía of gold and silver Corinthian bronze making, and violently suppressed the Art.

c. 300 CE: The Papyrus Graecus Holmiensis, also known as the Stockholm Papyrus, preserved craft recipes for dying, coloring gemstones, cleaning (purifying) pearls, and the manufacture of imitation gold and silver. Democritus was mentioned by name in this text, suggesting a style typified by the Persian-Egyptian gilding tradition of Pseudo-Democritus.

The Leyden Papyrus X likely written by the same scribe as the Graceus Holmiensis, preserved recipes for precious metal extraction, counterfeit precious metals, gems, and the manufacture of artificial Tyrian purple dye. In addition, it detailed the manufacture of textiles, and gold and silver inks.

The end of the text included short extracts from the Materia Medica of Dioscorides. The notion of Greek medicine having anything to do with early Alexandrian alchemy derives from this movement typified by the Pseudo-Democritan school of alchemy.

c. 300 CE: Zosimus of Panopolis, mystic and alchemy anthologist, attempted to rescue, catalogue and preserve alchemical texts banned by Diocletian. He was the first to clearly present alchemy as reflecting Hermetic and Gnostic spiritualty. Much of what is known of pre-Diocletian alchemy derives from what remains of Zosimus’ writings and fragments.

389-391 CE: Theodosian Decrees established a practical ban on non-Christians, forbade visitation to non-Christian temples, non-Christian holidays were abolished. This marked the beginning of strict and violent Christian subjugation.

391 CE: Synesius initiated Dioscorus, Alexandrian priest of the Temple of Serapis, by tutoring him on cover-names that encrypted the primary material, finally revealed by Synesius as “Roman antimony”, for creating divine water and philosophers’ mercury (Hermes). He became Hypatia’s disciple two years later.

The True Book of Synesius and the Epilogue According to Hermes are attributed to him. These texts closely parallel the methods of operation preserved in the Cleopatra fragments and Zosimus’ writings On the Evaporation of Divine Water that Fixed Mercury and Authentic Memoirs on Divine Water. The Philosophers’ Stone was valued during this period primarily as a cosmological model of Hermetic, Gnostic and Neoplatonic philosophical currents.

415 CE: Hypatia’s tragic murder marks the symbolic end of the Golden Age of classical antiquity typified by a cultural and intellectual climate that fostered free and open scientific inquiry and philosophical expression.

491 CE: Anastasius was forced to sign a written declaration of orthodoxy prior to his crowning, Christianization of the Roman Empire completed.

564 CE: Olympiodorus, the last Neoplatonic teacher of the Alexandrian School, delivered a series of lectures during May-June in Alexandria on astrology. An alchemical text is attributed to him and his teachings and approach to unified philosophy and mysticism influenced Stephanos of Alexandria.

617 CE: Stephanos of Alexandria travelled to Constantinople to cast a horoscope for the Emperor, where he remained and lectured on Plato and Aristotle, the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) along with astrology, medicine and alchemy at the court of Heraclius. He was tutor to Morienus, and became known as Istafan or Adfar of Alexandria in the Islamic tradition of alchemy.

A series of alchemical lectures titled Chrysopœia (gold-making) and a highly alchemical Letter to Theodoros are attributed to him. The Philosophers’ Stone was valued during this period primarily as an expedient means of initiation into Stephanos’ unified wisdom tradition and as a material monument or memorial of psychospiritual redemption. His approach to alchemy influenced Islamic and European alchemical traditions.

632 CE: Death of Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the beginning of the Islamic Empire.

c. 683 to 704 CE: Morienus al-Rumi tutored Khālid ibn Yazīd in alchemy in Damascus, thus transmitting late-Alexandrian / Byzantine alchemy to the Islamic Empire. The transmission was recorded as an eyewitness account by Khālid’s non-Arabic Muslim retainer, Ghalib.

Morienus’ brand of alchemy was highly practical yet also belied deep spiritual foundations inherited from Stephanos. The book of the Composition of Al-Kīmyāʼ is attributed to Morienus and his personal instructions to Khālid. This text was the foundational Islamic alchemical text and was among the first alchemical texts translated to Latin in Europe.

Morienus’ methodology highly influenced the sulfur-mercury theory of confecting the Philosophers’ Stone medieval Islamic alchemy. His particular recipe to confect the Philosophers’ Stone served as the archetypal template or blueprint for Islamic and foundational European traditions of alchemy.

The Philosophers’ Stone as inherited by Islamic alchemy as typified by Jābir ibn Hayyān (Geber), Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī (Rhazes) and Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Al-Hasan ibn Ali ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) was valued primarily as an ingestible therapeutic or curative medicine known as the al-Iksir (elixir).

10th to 13th centuries: The transmission of Alexandrian / Byzantine alchemy to the Islamic Empire marked the end of developmental Alexandrian alchemy. European alchemy developed following the Crusades, particularly after the fall of Constantinople in 1204 when scholars began to have access to Greek manuscripts containing important theological, philosophical and scientific learning previously unknown to the West.

The second wave of alchemical influence resulted from Islamic alchemy imported through Spain and Sicily with Islamic immigration into Europe. Early European alchemy was largely a rediscovery or restoration effort that matured into highly experimental proto-chemistry.

The Philosophers’ Stone became valued during the period of European alchemy primarily as riddle or test that secured access to a fellowship of alchemical insiders and served as an object of quest, the pursuit of which catalysed what might be described as experimental chemistry. It also became symbolic or representative of renaissance to early-modern humanist movements and occult sciences.

Timeline of Developmental Alchemy

Words for Metals

Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans

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