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What is Cinnabar?

Cinnabar, which is also referred to as mercury sulfide (HgS), is the chief ore mineral of mercury. Commonly, cinnabar is encountered with marcasite, stibnite, and pyrite in veins near recent volcanic rocks and the deposits of hot-springs. The essential deposit is at Almadén - Spain, where it has been mined for over 2,000 years. The other deposits present in Huancavelica, Peru; Iudrio - Italy; and the Coast Ranges of California, the U.S. Metacinnabar, which is the isometric (cubic) form of cinnabar, that transforms to cinnabar upon heating at a temperature of 400°–550° C (750°–1,020° F).

More about Cinnabar

In general, cinnabar takes place as a vein-filling mineral associated with the alkaline hot springs and recent volcanic activity. This mineral resembles the quartz in symmetry and its exhibiting birefringence. Cinnabar mineral has a mean refractive index around 3.2, a hardness between 2.0 and 2.5, and a particular gravity of 8.1, nearly. The properties and colour derive from a structure, which is a hexagonal crystalline lattice that belongs to the trigonal crystal system, crystals that exhibit twinning sometimes.

Cinnabar mineral has been used for its colour since the antiquity in the Near-East, including as a cosmetic of rogue-type, in China since as early as the Yangshao culture, and in the New World since the Olmec culture, where it was used in colouring stoneware.

Associated with modern precautions for handling and use of cinnabar arise from the mercury component toxicity, which was recognized as early as ancient Rome.


The term cinnabar derived from the Ancient Greek word, named kinnabari, most likely applied by the Theophrastus to many distinct substances. Whereas the other sources say, the term comes from the Persian word, named Arabicized, a word of uncertain origin. In Latin, it was known as minium, which also means "red cinnamon", though both of these terms, which now refer particularly to lead tetroxide.

Properties and Structure


Commonly, Cinnabar is found in a massive, earthy, or granular form and is bright scarlet to brick-red in colour, even it occasionally takes place in crystals with a nonmetallic adamantine luster. In its symmetry, it resembles quartz. It exhibits birefringence, and it contains the second-highest refractive index of any mineral. Its mean refractive index is given as 3.08 (sodium light wavelengths), versus the indices for the non-mineral gallium(III) arsenide (GaAs) and diamond, which are 3.93 and 2.42, respectively. The hardness of cinnabar is given as 2.0–2.5 on the Mohs scale, and its specific gravity is 8.1.


Cinnabar structurally belongs to the trigonal crystal system. It occurs as a slender prismatic crystal or thick tabular or as granular to massive incrustations. Crystal twinning also occurs as simple contact twins.

It is to note that, HgS, mercury(II) sulfide, adopts the cinnabar structure and one additional structure, which means it is dimorphous. Cinnabar is more stable and is a structure akin to that of HgO: every Hg centre contain two short Hg−S bonds (each of 2.36 Å), and four longer Hg···S contacts (with 3.10, 3.10, 3.30, 3.30 Å separations). Additionally, HgS can be found in a black, which is a non-cinnabar polymorph (otherwise metacinnabar) that has the structure of zincblende.

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In general, cinnabar occurs as a vein-filling mineral associated with alkaline hot springs and recent volcanic activity. It is deposited by the epithermal ascending aqueous solutions (those near the surface and not much hot) far removed from the source of their igneous. It is also associated with stibnite, native mercury, pyrite, realgar, opal, marcasite, chalcedony, quartz, calcite, barite, and dolomite.

Mining and Mercury Extraction

Cinnabar has been mined as the common source of mercury in nature for thousands of years, even as far back as the Neolithic Age. It was mined both as a pigment and for its mercury content during the Roman Empire.

To produce liquid mercury (which is also called quicksilver), crushed cinnabar ore can be roasted in the rotary furnaces. And, pure mercury gets separated from the sulfur in this process and evaporates easily. A condensing column can be used to collect the liquid metal, which is often shipped in iron flasks.


Associated modern precautions for handling and use of cinnabar have arisen from the toxicity of the mercury component, which was recognized as early as in ancient Rome. Due to its mercury content, cinnabar might be toxic to human beings. Overexposure to mercurialism, mercury, was seen as an occupational disease to the ancient living Romans.

Other Forms of Cinnabar

  • Paragite or hepatic cinnabar is the impure brownish variety from the Idrija mines in the Carniola region of Slovenia, where the cinnabar is mixed with earthy matter and bituminous.

  • In the hexagonal crystal system, hypercinnabar crystallizes at high temperatures.

  • Metacinnabar is a form of black-coloured mercury(II) sulfide, which crystallizes in the cubic crystal system.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Give the decorative use of Cinnabar?

The use of cinnabar as a colour in the New World, since the Olmec culture, can be exemplified by its use in the royal burial chambers during the Maya civilization peak, most dramatically in the 7th-century Tomb of the Palenque's Red Queen, where the noblewoman and objects remain belonging to her in her sarcophagus were completely covered with a bright red powder, which is made from cinnabar.

2. Differentiate Cinnabar and Amalgam?

Cinnabar is given as a nasty form of mercury, which was used as a pigment with the unfortunate side effect of poisoning the user, where amalgam is typically a mixture of mercury with another compound to fill the teeth holes.

3. Give the substituent for amalgam, used by Dentists?

Generally, silver amalgam can be reserved for back teeth. And well-performed silver amalgam restorations will last for 45 years.

Most people use composite resins, which have bonded enamel seals. Because of the chemical properties and physical loads, they tend to lose the seal in 3–5 years and need a replacement. But, some smaller ones will last longer.

4. Why did ancient civilizations use to smell cinnabar?

Mercury was used in gold and silver mining, and liquid mercury was mixed with the ore pulverized. The silver and gold forms amalgam with liquid mercury, and then it has heated off. The mercury evaporated and left all the precious metals in the pot.

Because it was a hazardous operation, ancient civilizations forced condemned criminals and slaves to refine the ore.