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Mercury in the EnvironmentPattern and Process$
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Michael Bank

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780520271630

Published to California Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520271630.001.0001

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Industrial Use of Mercury in the Ancient World

Industrial Use of Mercury in the Ancient World

(p.19) Chapter 2 Industrial Use of Mercury in the Ancient World
Mercury in the Environment

William E. Brooks

University of California Press

Mercury and cinnabar were known and used in ancient Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, Mexico, and South America. Archaeologists have shown that cinnabar was mined and mercury was produced more than eight thousand years ago in Turkey. Blood-red cinnabar provided a multiuse pigment in many parts of the ancient world, and mercury retorted from the cinnabar was used for gilding or placer gold amalgamation. Mercury was the earliest known treatment for syphilis, and Agricola (1556) details mercury use, retorting techniques, and cautions against breathing the fumes released during mercury retorting. In the 1600s mercury from Peru was essential to Spanish colonial silver processing in the New World and soon replaced mercury brought across the Atlantic from the centuries-old Almaden Mine in Spain.

Keywords:   mercury, cinnabar, ancient, retorting, amalgamation

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