An attractive mineral favored by ancient civilizations, but turned out to be highly toxic | Cinnabar | USA | Europe | Mesoamerica | Peru | Roman Culture | What is Chinnadai? | Properties of Cinnamon | | Science

Its presence has been found in tombs, shrines, artefacts, paintings and more. Photo: IA/LR | Photo: IA/LR.

For ancient civilizations, cinnabar was a fascinating and desirable mineral due to its striking color and red veining in its appearance. Used by various ancient civilizations from China to Mesoamerica, this mineral was used as a pigment, but above all as a ritual element in mystic and funerary rites. However, behind its beauty lies a dangerous truth: cinnamon is one of the main sources of mercury, a highly toxic element. This mineral is one of the few that was discovered, processed and used independently by ancient peoples in many parts of the world. In ancient times ChinaFor example, its use was common in the preparation of inks for sacred writing and the decoration of imperial tombs. In MesoamericaThe Mayans and Aztecs valued it so much that they incorporated it into their most important religious rituals and funeral rites.

Cinnabar is an indigenous mineral of ancient civilizations

He Cinnamon It was an element of great value thousands of years ago. According to the information BBCThe mineral was shown around 10,000 years ago, “by artists who used it to paint images of aurochs on the walls of an ancient settlement. Çatalhöyük What is Türkiye now, and the pottery from the culture Yangshao in China (5,000 to 3,000 BC)”.

On the other hand, in what we now call the Americas, the use of cinnabar is practiced in “tombs, murals, masks, ornaments, and precious metals. Cultures of the Andean Region and Mesoamerica“. However, it is in Spain that the site is “where the world’s largest amount of mercury has been extracted for centuries,” according to international media.

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Cinnabar is part of the paintings on the walls of ancient Rome. Photo: Angelsferrerb

We can also see cinnabar in paintings that are part of the walls of the buildings of ancient Rome, when the price of this mineral “cost three times that of the precious Egyptian blue gold”. Likewise, in Revival Cinnabar was also used in memorialized wax seals that attest to documents of the period and was an important pigment for artists. Giotto, Tisano Y Van Eyck.

It should be noted that ignorance of time allowed civilizations Exposure to this mineral can be dangerous to healthaccording to this BBC– causing them to experience the effects of their prolonged exposure. symptoms Mercury poisoningSevere neurological and physical damage, derived from direct handling of cinnabar, is a grim reality behind its dazzling appearance.

Giotto was one of the artists who used cinnabar in his incredible art pieces. Photo: Pinturado Auwe

Used in mystic and funeral rites

application Cinnamon Mystical and funeral rites had deep cultural and spiritual implications. In these contexts, it is not only beautified by its color, but also has protective and purifying properties attributed to it. Priests and shamans used it in powdered form to draw ritual circles or decorate icons and statues of deities, creating an impressive visual and spiritual connection.

Rituals involving cinnabar were complex and varied, from the consecration of new temples to the preparation of bodies for their journey to rebirth, demonstrating that its use was deeply rooted in the lives and deaths of these cultures.

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Cinnabar was used to care for the dead, as was the so-called Red Queen. Photo: National Institute of Anthropology and History

What is Chinnadai?

Cinnabar, as chemically known Mercuric sulfide (HgS)A mineral found mainly in volcanic rock formations and geothermal areas. Its intense red color is often compared to blood, which is not only beautiful but also very unique. This mineral forms near sources of mercury, and its extraction and processing without proper precautions can be dangerous.

Because of its mercury content, cinnabar is a highly toxic mineral. Photo: Green Ecology

Due to its unique characteristics and striking, the Cinnamon It was used extensively in the manufacture of pigments and in alchemy. In the modern era, it has lost some of its useful value due to the hazards associated with mercury, but remains of interest to collectors and mineralogists.

Properties of Cinnabar

Cinnabar has various physical properties. Here are six of them:

  • It is dark red in color.
  • It imparts an adamantine luster over crystalline and earthy faces.
  • Its crystal structure is trigonal.
  • It has a hardness of 2 to 2.5.
  • Its density is 8.176 g/cm³.
  • Its fracture produces irregular subconchoidal fragments (shell-shaped fracture).

Cinnabar is present in Peruvian cultures


Among the Mochi, which flourished on the northern coast of Peru between 100 and 800 AD, cinnabar was primarily used in funerary rituals. Archaeologists have found tombs in which bodies were covered in cinnabar, perhaps symbolizing blood and regeneration, essential elements in their beliefs about the afterlife. This usage suggests a connection to life after death and the spiritual transformation of the deceased.

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The Nazca culture, known for its intricate lines and colorful pottery, also used cinnabar in funerary and ceremonial contexts. In Nazca tombs, cinnabar was used to paint bodies and textiles, signifying high status and divine connection. This usage can be interpreted as an attempt to invoke protection for the spirit in the other world.


For the Incas, who dominated a vast empire in the Andes from the 13th century until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, cinnabar had ritual and aesthetic uses. It was used in the decoration of important objects and in the painting of notable buildings such as temples and palaces. Additionally, cinnabar is believed to have been used in the investiture ceremonies of new emperors, where it was applied to the face and hands as a symbol of power and purity.

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