What Is Cinnabar?


Quick Answer

Cinnabar is a common mercury ore called mercury sulfide. Cinnabar's vivid red color has made it a prized ingredient in lacquers and artwork, especially in ancient China. Cinnabar crystals were also one of the first means of obtaining mercury for use in metallurgy and other applications.

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Full Answer

Cinnabar was discovered and used by many different societies across the ancient world, primarily as a pigment. However, the powdered mercury ore is extremely toxic, and it can cause heavy metal poisoning. Unfortunately, cinnabar saw widespread use for centuries before its toxicity was fully understood, killing an untold number of craftsmen and artisans who used the dangerous substance.

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