This site comprises 120 pages of text and photos, one for each element, and several pages for access. – For captions or explanatory texts move your mouse over illustrations, links etc.
Tin Frisian (West)
Estam, ²Estanh Occitan
Staniu, ²Cositor Romanian - Moldovan
Калай [Kalaj] Bulgarian
Волава [volava] Belarusian
Калај [Kalaj] Macedonian
Олово [Olovo] Russian
Калај [Kalaj] Serbian
Олово [olovo] Ukrainian
Stán Gaelic (Irish)
Staoin Gaelic (Scottish)
Stainney Gaelic (Manx)
Κασσιτερος [kassiteros] Greek
Անագ [anag] Armenian
Kalaj, ²Zinni Albanian
Къала [k"ala] Ossetian
Қалъагӣ [Kalagi] Tajik
টিন [ṭina] Bengali
قلع [ql'] Persian
ટિનનો [ṭinano] Gujarati
त्रपु [trapu] Hindi
Озысь [Ozys'] Komi
Вулно [Vulno] Mari
Валдакиви, Равжа киви [valdakivi, ravzha kivi] Moksha
Тăхлан [Tăhlan] Chuvash
Къалайы [k"alajy] Kazakh
-- [--] Kyrgyz
Цагаан тугалга [cagaan tugalga] Mongolian
قەلەي [qäläy] Uyghur
კალა [kala] Georgian
قصدير [qaSdīr] Arabic
בדיל [bdil] Hebrew
Landa, ²Stann Maltese
スズ [suzu] Japanese
주석 [juseog] Korean
ดีบุก [dībuk] Thai
錫 [xi2 / sik8] Chinese
വെളുത്തീയം [veḷuttīyam] Malayalam
தகரம் [takaram] Tamil
Stani, ²Bati Swahili
Ten Sranan Tongo
Tinine Atomic Elements
White-gray, soft metal which turns into a dark gray powder at cold temperature
melting point 232 °C; 450 °F
boiling point 2270 °C; 4118 °F
density 5.75-7.31 g/cc; 358.96-456.35 pounds/cubic foot
Known to the ancients
Stannum (Latin) > stag (Indo-European) = dripping
History & Etymology
Tin is one of the oldest metals known by man. There are domestic utensils and arms
made of brass (copper with about 15% of tin), dating from 3500 BC. The Phoenicians had a very
important role in the spread of brass utensils due to its commercial trades with Britain, Spain
and the Middle East.
The Tin of the Bible (Κασσιτερος [kassiteros] in the Greek version) corresponds to the Hebrew בדיל [bdil], which is really a Copper alloy known as early as 1600 BC in Egypt.
"And Ele-a'zar the priest said unto the men of war which went to the battle, This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD commanded Moses; only the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead, every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water." (Numbers 31:21-23).
The Greeks imported Tin from the Casseterides ("Tin islands"), islands in the West. The precise location of the Cassiterides or "tin islands" is unknown, but it is suggested they are the British Isles. The most important ore of Tin is Tin oxide, Cassiterite (SnO2). A specimen from Cornwall is illustrated here. The importance of tin to the Greeks was its immense value in alloying copper, which was mined from ancient times in Cyprus. Copper by itself is very difficult to cast, but with the addition of about ten percent of tin, it flows nicely in the molten state, and has greater hardness than copper . The "Bronze Age" was dependent on tin from its very inception.
From Pliny’s writings it appears that the Romans in his time did not realize the distinction between Tin and Lead. He referred to Tin as plumbum album (white lead) to distinguish it from Lead which was called plumbum nigrum (black lead). Pliny referred to the existence of Tin and Lead alloys, what we now know as solder, as well as recipients of tinned copper. He wrote that the best mirrors were made at Brundisium from a mixture of Copper and "stagnum". By the Romans, the term stannum was mostly used for an alloy of Lead and Silver obtained in the winning of Silver. Not until the sixth century was it applied to Tin, but thereafter was commonly used in this sense.
By the early Greek alchemists the metal was named Hermes, but at about the beginning of the 6th century, it was termed Zeus or Jupiter. It was also referred to as diabolus metallorum (devil among metals), on account of the brittle alloys which it formed.
In astrology alchemy the seven heavenly bodies known to the ancients were associated with seven metals also known in antiquity:
|Sun (Sol)||Gold (Aurum)|
|Mercury (Mercurius)||Mercury (Hydrargyrum)|
|Moon (Luna)||Silver (Argentum)|
Tinstone (Tin Dioxide) found in Mines and Streams
In Cornwall, produces Bar- and Grain-Tin.
It is our only native source for Tin.
Although not as much as for the other six antique metals, the name for the metal tin has a variety of roots in the various languages. The most important are:
1. Stannum < Tin
The Latin name Stannum is connected to "stagnum" and "stag" (Indo-European) for dripping because tin melts easily. The word definitely assumed its present meaning in the 4th century (H. Kopp). According to Meyers Konversationslexikon Stannum is derived from Cornish stean (present orthography sten), and is proof that Cornwall in the first centuries AD was the main source of Tin. (other sources, however, see the Cornish stean as a derivation from the Latin stannum! [Eedle]). The Latin Stannum became the source for most European words. In Spanish (estaño) evolved from stannum by first becoming stanno (the "m" never was strongly pronounced in Latin, and mostly nasalized the "u"). Then the Goths had problems with "st" so it became estanno. Finally, the double "n" merged into "ñ" when the spelling was regularized, and we have the final form. Italian stagno suffered a similar transformation (gn = ñ). The French étain is closer to the English (and Dutch) Tin. Indeed, the second syllable would be pronounced just as "Tin" would be.
According to SMI the metal is named after an Etruscan god, Tinia.
2. Kassiteros (Greek)
The Greek name Κασσιτερος is already in use since Homer. it means "the metal from the land of the Kassi (or the Casseterides)". The etymology is not clear (see Loma's abstract below). The Croatian name is obviously derived from the Greek. The Arabic قصدير [qaSdīr] is an old borrowing from this Greek word. Also some Balkan-Slavic languages has borrowed their word from Greek.
At the XI. Fachtagung der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft (Halle/S. 17-23 September 2000) Aleksandar Loma from Belgrado presented a paper, Gr. kassiteros, att. kattiteros: Ein frühes iranisches Lehnwort?. The summary is:
Gr. kassiteros, att. kattiteros "Zinn", ein Wanderwort bislang ohne Etymologie, wird als frühe Entlehnung aus dem Iranischen erklärt und zusammen mit den apers. LW im Altindischen sisa- n. "Blei", kas i sa- n. "Eisenvitriol" auf den gemeiniranischen Ansatz *ka-tsvi?ra- zurückgeführt, unter Hinweis auf die von Strabo XV, p. 724 erwähnten Zinngruben in Drangiana. Diese Annahme gibt Anlaß zur Diskussion über die absolute und relative Chronologie einiger früher Lautwandlungen in den beiden Sprachen. (Source, click here).
More on the etymology of Kassiteros at Eedle's homepage.
3. Kalay (Turkish)
Used in most of the Balkan languages, as well as in the Altaic languages.
4. Alavas (Baltic)
The Baltic Alavas is used in Eastern Slavic languages (Russian Îëîâî). In Western Slavic languages this is the name for Lead.
A peculiar website from Lavian-American Andis Kaulins, Indo-European Afro-Asiatic Words for Metals - Copper Lead Tin Iron Bronze Gold Amber. I am not sure what to think of the value of his unorthodox information, but give it for what it is worth. Kaulins
presents the following list for Tin:
Old Hindic NAGA
Latvian S.VIN "lead" S.VERte "plumb" S.VARs "weight"
Lithuanian SH.VIN- ("lead, plumb")
And similar lists for Iron, Copper, and Lead. In examining all of these ancient terms for these metals,
Kaulins sees that all names have two basic roots as their origin:
(1) "bar, var, par". Indo-European for "to smelt, boil" (Latvian var).
(2) "dzel, zil", meaning "yellow, gold, blue, dark blue, shiny" (Latvian zil).
He adds: "Latvian ALUOties "apply air to the fire in an oven" whence
Latvian ALVA (also ALVS, ALS) "tin"
Lithuanian ALVAS = tin
Old Prussian ALWIS = lead
English ALLOY and
TIN, barter Ore of Ye Anciente Britons,
Latin, Stannum, is a silver-white Metalloid
Which, when bent, crackles with the "cry of tin."
Tin is soft, mall'able, ductile, and slightly
Tenacious. Strongly heated in Air it fires;
The Oxide then form'd is call'd Putty Powder,
It is used to polish Glass and hard substances.
- Mary Elvira Weeks, Discovery of the Elements, comp. rev. by Henry M. Leicester (Easton, Pa.: Journal of Chemical Education, 1968), pp. 42-46.
- William Harris, Humanities and the Liberal Arts, Greek Mythology and Pre-History, Chapter 6: The Discovery and Uses of Metals (on-line).
- Arthur & Rosalind Eedle, The Ancient Mining of Tin, The Prophetic Telegraph - No.77A (on-line).
- S. Srinivasan and S. Ranganathan, Metallurgical Heritage of India (on-line).
- James B. Calvert, "Tin" 2002 (on-line).