The earliest history of silver is presumed to be unwritten. Silver artifacts have been dated as far back as 4000 B.C., but there is no history to read about them beyond what was written by archeologists and historians when they were discovered. It was not long after this, though, that silver and historical recordation crossed paths to give us a more definitive picture of the progression of silver through the ages.
The earliest known sources of mined silver were found in the region of Anatolia, which is now known as Turkey, around 3400 B.C. Historians believe this came after the discovery of gold and copper. Its discovery resulted in its use first in art and jewelry, then in coinage as commerce developed throughout Asia Minor.
Deposits in the region were combined with other minerals like lead, which may have contributed to the delay of large-scale use of silver throughout Asia Minor as compared to other metals, including gold.
The Chaldeans are credited with the first sophisticated demonstration of silver mining around 2500 B.C, who extracted the silver from lead. Later, silver would be mined in Armenia, until the fall of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations.
Laurium, in the area of modern-day Greece, then rose as the world's largest source of silver, and remained so for 1,000 years to around 1 A.D. Other areas also produced silver, but nowhere near the 1.5 million ounces per year being mined in Laurium.
Following this regional silver boom, a few countries exported silver mined in modern-day Spain, including the Carthaginians and the Romans. Spanish silver supplied Roman Empire and commerce throughout Asia Minor for another 1,000 years, until the Moorish conquest of Spain.
The combination of improving mining technologies and upheaval in Spain led to silver deposit discoveries throughout Europe from 1200 and 1400.
The discovery of the "New World" at the end of the 14th century led to discoveries of vast silver resources throughout what would become known as North, Central and South America. A notable find in what is now Bolivia produced 1 billion ounces between 1500 and 1800 and was subsequently exported by Spanish conquistadors.
Present-day Mexico and Peru also proved to be very rich and silver, which the Spanish also mined. More than 3 million ounces were mined each year in Peru between 1600 and 1800, and 1.5 billion ounces were mined from Mexico from 1700 to 1800.
Bolivia, Mexico and Peru accounted for 85% of world's silver production during this time. Further improvement in mining and more discoveries in the 1800s raised the global production of silver to 80 million ounces per year by 1870.
The U.S. Industrial Revolution resulted in an explosion in silver production, along with quantum leaps in several other areas of industry. Technology was so dramatically improved that it helped make a massive ore deposit in Nevada became the world's largest producer until the 20th century.
Technological advancement of note included steam-assisted drilling and the development of the combustion engine, which allowed for new ways to transport loads of dirt, ore and equipment. Other improvements were also made in smelting and refining.
New discoveries in other areas like Canada, Africa and Japan at this time expanded production from a new high of 120 million ounces a year in the early 1900s to 190 million ounces by 1920.
Advancements continue to be made in the mining and refining of silver, and even bigger strides have been made in its use and recovery.
Silver has historically been used in coinage, art and jewelry. Now, silver has gone through a partial transition into the industrial world, and is often used for its conductive properties in electrical components, as well as the medical industry because of its low reactivity in moist environments.
It remains a precious metal, however, and is still used more as an investment tool. Prices for silver have been steadily climbing and it is recognized as a great way to hedge against more volatile investments, particularly those investments not backed with physical collateral.
More emphasis has also been placed on silver recovery. Usefully recycling and reusing silver has become big business as the precious metal's value has increased. Silver is no longer a second-class precious metal, if it ever was. It is now an important element in business as well as industry.