Techniques for making metal alloys date back over 2000 years. Once the Chinese people discovered that they could add lead and tin to copper to create a stronger, more workable metal, the Bronze Age began. Bronze became increasingly popular because the tools and weapons made out of it were far more durable. Bronze also melted faster, making it easier to pour into casts and molds.
Weapons that the Chinese designed from bronze included dagger-axes, which had a hooked blade that resembled a small sickle; spears whose spearheads were perpendicular to the shaft (see picture below); halberds, which were spear shafts with a dagger-axe on the end; and swords, which were long blades for close fighting. The spears and swords were usually engraved with elaborate decorative patterns, so they were works of art as well as deadly weapons. Bronze crossbows were also invented during this period, but their drawback was that they required so much energy to shoot that the archers became quickly exhausted during battle.
Bronze handheld guns first showed up during the early Yuan Dynasty in China. Other types of weapons using metal barrels actually appeared earlier in the Tang Dynasty. These were specifically used for fire lances (flamethrowers) that propelled bombs filled with gunpowder into the enemy territory. These would explode, causing tremendous damage and catching the targets on fire.
The next generation of weapons after the fire lances, was the hand cannon. This weapon is considered the first true firearm because it used the explosion from the gunpowder to launch a projectile or object from the weapon instead of just fire. The first bronze handgun was invented during the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century. These handguns could not shoot far or accurately, but they had the same psychological effect on the enemy as earlier fire weapons.
Throughout the millennia leading up to today, bronze has also been used to make such items as large ceremonial bells, bronze statues, machines, gears, pumps, pipe fittings, ship propellers, turbine blades and even coins. Depending on the use for the finished product, different ratios of metals are mixed in with the bronze to enhance specific characteristics needed for that particular use.
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