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In this world, the three metals noted above are the only ones available in meaningful quantities, excluding metals inside live organisms.

Obviously, these metals and most of their alloys are softer than iron or bronze, so i am wondering what would armor evolve into. Would scales or mail armor be more beneficial than cast plates?

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    $\begingroup$ Gold is heavy. It is just a very little denser than tungsten, 1.7 times as dense as lead, more than twice as dense as steel. Gold and silver are also notable for being impervious to work hardening -- you can beat them all you want, they will remain very malleable and ductile. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ I would imagine people would rely on non-metal materials for their armor - wood, bone, fabric, animal hide perhaps. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ real copper armor did exist, why does that not good enough? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ Have you done any research before asking this question? It seems you think armour has to be made out of metals, even though two out of three options are useless for it. There are plenty alternatives in the world. What kind of weapons do you have to protect against? What armor would evolve into is far too broad a question, especially considering the lack of information. $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ If those are the only metals avaiable in meaningful quantities, then you don't have any semblance of life on your planet. Metas play a gigantic role in biology - making them unavaiable is crippling your ecosystems in ridiculous ways. $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 20:17

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There was in fact a period in some parts of the world referred to as the chalcolithic, or copper age. That would seems to be a good start for your future research. It spanned quite a considerable period of time and overlapped with the early bronze age so there's a lot of information out there. An interesting starting point might be Ötzi the iceman, who carried a copper axe but had a flint knife and arrows with flint heads, which is a sign perhaps that copper artefacts were valuable or rare. He wasn't a warrior, or at least wasn't being one at the time he was killed, though.

There is such a thing as arsenical bronze... a compound made from copper and arsenic, and more useful for various things such as hard cutting tools than pure copper (though it would be quite unpleasant to smelt). Some of the oldest swords in the world found at Arslantepe use this material, and the fact that pure copper swords don't seem to appear suggests that copper alone isn't much use for long blades.

What you won't find much of anywhere is copper armor. Even bronze armor isn't exactly commonplace... the raw materials are expensive and hard to come by, and really it wasn't until the advent of iron smelting technology that metal armor really took off. Copper weapons appear in tombs and hoards (eg. Kfar Monash), showing that whilst they weren't exactly common, they would not all have been recycled for bronze, but copper armor just seems to be all but absent.

Would scales or mail armor be more beneficial than cast plates?

I can't seem to find examples of bronze mail... I suspect it was simply too difficult to work bronze wire without it fatiguing, and possibly the riveting stage would be inconvenient too. Copper would be too soft for decent mail... work hardening it in-place seems tenuous. Arsenical copper probably has the same problem of being worked as more common bronze.

Bronze plate is rare, presumably due to the expense of getting hold of enough of the source material and the difficulty involved in shaping it. Bronze scale armor did exist though, but non-metallic armor made from leather and wood and other natural materials like shell or bone were more common. It is possible that copper scale armor did exist, but it is hard to find good evidence for it, and that suggests to me that it wasn't really much use. King Tutankhamun, ruler of a powerful bronze-age nation, had leather armor in his tomb. Ancient people might have been less advanced than us, but they weren't stupid. If copper weapons really were game-changers, and if copper armor really was effective against them, it seems like you'd expect to find more of it.

The answer to your question then ends up a slightly unhelpful "don't bother". Regular copper seems only suited for decoration and tools, and probably isn't worth making armor from at all. Arsenical copper (if you could get enough of the stuff) might be a useful thing for reinforcing the rim of a shield, or building a shield-boss from, and maybe you might even make a helmet from it, but actually wearing a suit of it might only be a way of advertising your incredible wealth and power rather than an actual practical means of keeping you safe.

If it turned out to be actually useful, I'd expect to see more scales than plates, with plates reserved for the rich and powerful again, much like the Dendra panoply.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would alloys from copper with gold and/or silver help? Also, in this world these metals are fairly common. Thanks $\endgroup$
    – Rhomaioi
    Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 3:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Rhomaioi as far as I'm aware, neither gold nor silver could contribute usefully to toughness or hardness. You'd need to find something else, hence my suggestion of arsenic. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 16:07
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Armour is tailored to protect against the weapons used. In this case the metals are unsuitable for weapons so weapons would be wood, stone and bone based, like the one in the picture. Many cultures throughout the World used extremely lethal weapons that had no metal in them. And they have been used successfully against metal weapons.

So I'd expect the armour to also be made from natural materials like wood, matting, bone, leather and furs in colder climates, and probably dispensed with altogether except helmets in the tropics for heat control and mobility with shields being more important. Thats how it's worked out in reality. In the tropics armour was rare even after metal arrived.

There are numerous examples in history where armour was a hindrance. During the Anabasis the greek heavy infantry were being killed at will by slingers throwing stones. The French knights at Agincourt got bogged down in muddy ground etc,. It's all about the specific battle scenario. You can wear full knights armour and sword and this wooden club would wipe the floor with you in a foot battle. Goliath was wearing full armour with shield and got beaten by a chap with a tunic on. It sounds like a mismatch, but as a slinger myself realistically Goliath never stood a chance. The mismatch wasn't in the direction most people perceive it.

So the whole dynamics of battle would change, light infantry would be a much more important part of your armies. Polynesian weapon

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Tangental to your question

Quoting wikipedia:

The mass of the Earth is approximately 5.97×1024 kg. In bulk, by mass, it is composed mostly of iron (32.1%), oxygen (30.1%), silicon (15.1%), magnesium (13.9%), sulfur (2.9%), nickel (1.8%), calcium (1.5%), and aluminium (1.4%); with the remaining 1.2% consisting of trace amounts of other elements.[12]

Removing metals from the earth removes at least 66% of the most common elements on earth.

Similarly, looking at the periodic table, most elements (other than a handful on the right) are metals.

Salt contains sodium, bones contain calcium... A world with few metals other than copper, gold and silver will be very very different to our own, and life will likely evolved vastly different.


Also, don't forget alloys. They can often have vastly different mechanical properties to the base metals. (The same way that sodium, a highly reactive metal tha combusts on contact with water, and chlorine, a poisonous gas, combine to make ... table salt).

Silicon bronzes are copper with silicon. I assume your world has sand? (Silicon dioxide). Many have other trace metals, and I was unable to find the mechanical properties of pure silicon+bronze alloys, but many silicon bronzes have much higher tensile strength, hardness compared to copper alone. So I suspect armour and weapons in your world may be made from these sorts of alloys.

There are also many copper/silver/gold alloys, but these are mostly (as far as I can tell) for aesthetics and coloring of the metals.


Don't let this stop you from writing your story. A good story is irrespective of the the science. In fact, if I remember correctly Anne McCaffery's "dragonriders" series had much the same premise, which led to a fixed tech level for an extensive period of time.

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