The Elements And When They Were First Discovered

Sylvia Powell
4 min readJun 21, 2019


Have you ever stopped and wondered how far back in time the first element on the Periodic Table of Elements was discovered? And how many elements had been found before the Periodic Table was created? And who exactly found all of these elements? Well, I have some answers to these burning questions. Although the answers will only make you want to dig deeper into the very long history of when elements were discovered. I’m talking 9000 B.C.E. so the first element was found a whopping11,000 years ago!

Let’s start with the earliest elements. Copper was the very first element discovered all the way back in 9000 B.C.E., which seems almost unbelievable that scientists back then had the ability and intelligence to discover a new element when they come across it. It really makes you wonder what times wee like back then, and did they realise how massive this discovery of the first element really was!? Over the next 4,000 years more popular metal elements were discovered: lead, iron, silver, and gold. Metal was commonly used for simple tools, structures, and jewelry of course so it fits that they were some of the early elements found.

The 1800s saw a rise in the discovery of elements that were alkali metals, post-transition metals, and lanthanides.

Over the next 6,700 years a handful of other elements were discovered in middle eastern areas like Egypt and the Roman Empire. But it wasn’t until the 1700’s that the Periodic Table really started to get filled in with many discoveries of new elements thanks to huge advances in science during this time. Scientists were learning how to break atoms and other compounds apart and find the tiny little bits that made them up, the elements. Between 1766 and 1772 some of the most important elements were discovered, the ones that make up so much of our earth and atmosphere: hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.

For a better look at all of the elements that were discovered in the 1700s:

The 1800s saw a rise in the discovery of elements that were more alkali metals, post-transition metals, and lanthanide.

And while all of this was going on over these 100+ years, the Periodic Table still hadn’t been created! It was finally created by Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869, and he even had the foresight to leave plenty of open spaces in the table for any future elements that hadn’t yet been discovered.

But the discoveries didn’t stop there. While they slowed a bit in the early 1900s, by the 1930s scientists were beginning to work on nuclear weapons research and therefore started working with much bigger atoms than they had before. And these big atoms had plenty of unknown materials within for them to discover and identify. Between 1940 and 1966, scientists discovered over 10 actinide elements thanks to this nuclear research.

New elements have continually been discovered since then, with the most recent even being discovered in 2009! The element was Tennessine, found in Russia, for anyone wondering. Check out the full timeline of when the elements were discovered here. And take a gander at the periodic table of discoverers below (which can also be found at the link above).