Silver is known by the mankind since Pre-History, and its discovery is estimated happened to shortly after that of copper and gold. The oldest reference to the element appears in the book of Genesis. The Egyptians considered gold to be a perfect metal, and gave it the symbol of a circle. Since silver was the closest to gold in perfection, it was given the symbol of a semi-circle. Later this semi-circle led to a growing moon symbol, probably due to the likeness between the shining metal and the moon glow. The Romans called silver argentum, keeping this as the international name of the element, from where its chemical symbol derives.
Just as gold, silver was considered by the Ancients an almost sacred metal and consequently, of extremely restricted use. Its malleability and ductility make it ideal for ornamental purposes. It was also used for paying debts, in personal and religious places decoration and in utensils of the wealthiest houses.
Some mineral scums in old mines of the Near-East and in some islands of the Aegean sea seem to reveal that by 5000 b.C. a method was already known to separate silver from lead. The gold and the silver were extracted from its ores and bonded to lead. After oxidation of this mixture, it was possible to obtain the precious metals.