Silver is a chemical element with the symbol Ag (from the Latin argentum - Ancient Greek ἄργυρος, árgyros) meaning "white" or "shining". A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it exhibits the highest electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, and reflectivity of any metal. The metal is found in the Earth's crust in the pure, free elemental form ("native silver"), as an alloy with gold and other metals, and in minerals such as argentite and chlorargyrite. Silver is similar in its physical and chemical properties to copper and gold and is usually found in nature combined with other metals, or in minerals that contain silver compounds.
Because pure silver is very soft, most silver used for these purposes is alloyed with copper, with finenesses of 925/1000, 835/1000, and 800/1000 being common. Electrolytically refined pure silver plating is effective at increasing resistance to tarnishing.
Silver has long been valued as a precious metal and plays a certain role in mythology and has found various usage as a metaphor and in folklore.
As one of the seven metals of antiquity, silver has had an enduring role in most human cultures. Since silver is more reactive than gold, supplies of native silver were much more limited than those of gold. For example, silver was more expensive than gold in Egypt until around the 15th century BC. While slag heaps found in Asia Minor and on the islands of the Aegean Sea indicate that silver was being separated from lead as early as the 4th millennium BC, and one of the earliest silver extraction centres in Europe was Sardinia in the early Chalcolithic period, these techniques did not spread widely until later, when it spread throughout the region and beyond. The origins of silver production in India, China, and Japan were almost certainly equally ancient, but are not well-documented due to their great age.
By the time of the Greek and Roman civilizations, silver coins were a staple of the economy, the Greeks were already extracting silver from galena by the 7th century BC and the rise of Athens was partly made possible by the nearby silver mines at Laurium. Central Europe became the centre of silver production during the Middle Ages.
With the discovery of America, Central and South America became the dominant producers of silver until around the beginning of the 18th century, particularly Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. In the 19th century, primary production of silver moved to North America, particularly Canada, Mexico, and Nevada in the United States. Poland emerged as an important producer during the 1970s. Today, Peru and Mexico are still among the primary silver producers.
The major use of silver besides coinage throughout most of history was in the manufacture of jewellery and other general-use items, and this continues to be a major use today.