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c.1300, "earth, air, fire, or water," from Old French element (10c.), from Latin elementem "rudiment, first principle, matter in its most basic form" (translating Greek stoikheion ), origin unknown. Meaning "simplest component of a complex substance" is late 14c. Modern sense in chemistry is from 1813. Elements "atmospheric force" is 1550s.
The history of the discovery and use of the elements began with primitive human societies that found native elements like carbon, sulfur, copper and gold. Later civilizations extracted elemental copper, tin, lead and iron from their ores by smelting , using charcoal . Alchemists and chemists subsequently identified many more; almost all of the naturally occurring elements were known by 1900.
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