How Was Silver Made in Ancient Times?

Silver has been used for thousands of years by various civilizations for its beauty and value. But have you ever wondered how silver was made in ancient times? Let’s dive into the process and discover how early civilizations produced this precious metal.

The Early Days of Silver Production

The earliest known method of silver production dates back to around 3000 BC in modern-day Turkey. This involved heating silver ore with rock salt, which then released the silver from the ore. The freed silver would then be melted and cast into bars or other shapes.

The Greek Method

The Greeks improved upon this method by using a process called cupellation. This involved heating the silver ore with lead, causing the lead to oxidize and separate from the silver. The lead oxide was then absorbed by bone ash leaving behind pure silver.

The Roman Technique

The Romans developed a more efficient process for producing silver known as amalgamation. This involved crushing the ore and mixing it with mercury, which then bonded with the silver to form an amalgam. The amalgam was heated, causing the mercury to vaporize leaving behind pure silver.

Medieval Methods

During medieval times, several methods were used to produce silver. One such method was smelting.

This involved heating the ore in a furnace until it melted and separated from impurities. Another method was called liquation, which involved heating the ore until it melted and separating out different metals based on their melting points.

The Renaissance Process

In the Renaissance era, a new technique for producing silver emerged called patio process. This involved mixing crushed ore with salt, copper sulfate, and mercury in large open-air patios where it would be stirred constantly for several weeks until all of the various metals had separated from one another.

Modern Techniques

Today, most of the silver production is done by using a technique called cyanide leaching. This involves crushing the ore and then using a weak cyanide solution to dissolve the silver from the ore. The silver is then extracted from the solution and purified.


Silver has been an important metal throughout human history, and its production has evolved significantly over time. From basic heating methods to complex chemical processes, we have come a long way in our ability to produce this valuable metal.