There is no single person to whom the discovery of the element mercury can be credited. Its presence was known to the ancient Chinese, Hindus and Egyptians. It is unclear which of these societies first discovered the element.
Mercury is seldom found free in nature, which may be one reason its discovery cannot be traced to an individual. It is mostly found combined with sulfur in a material known as cinnabar. Mercury easily combines with a number of other elements.
The chemical symbol of mercury is Hg, which comes from the Greek word meaning "liquid silver." A more recent term for the element is quicksilver. Mercury is highly toxic as are some of its compounds. The element does have beneficial uses because it can easily form amalgams with various other metals. Various compounds containing mercury have been used for medical purposes. The element mercury was named after the planet Mercury, not because of the planet's gray color, but because of the planet's speed in orbiting the sun.