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Carnelian sard (mineral specimen).jpg
Category Chalcedony variety
(repeating unit)
Silica (silicon dioxide, SiO2)
Crystal system Trigonal
Formula mass 60 g/mol
ColorRed, orange, reddish
Cleavage Absent
Fracture Uneven, splintery, conchoidal
Mohs scale hardness6.5 – 7.0
Luster Waxy to resinous
Streak White
Diaphaneity Translucent to opaque
Specific gravity 2.58 - 2.64
Optical propertiesUniaxial +
Refractive index 1.535 to 1.539
Birefringence 0.003 to 0.009
Pleochroism None
References [1] [2]

Carnelian (also spelled cornelian [3] ) is a brownish-red mineral commonly used as a semi-precious gemstone. Similar to carnelian is sard, which is generally harder and darker (the difference is not rigidly defined, and the two names are often used interchangeably). Both carnelian and sard are varieties of the silica mineral chalcedony colored by impurities of iron oxide. The color can vary greatly, ranging from pale orange to an intense almost-black coloration. Significant localities include Yanacodo (Peru); Ratnapura (Sri Lanka); and Thailand. [2] It has been found in Indonesia, Brazil, India, Russia (Siberia), and Germany.[ citation needed ]



Polish signet ring in light-orange carnelian intaglio showing Korwin coat of arms Korwin signet-ring1.PNG
Polish signet ring in light-orange carnelian intaglio showing Korwin coat of arms

The red variety of chalcedony has been known to be used as beads since the Early Neolithic in Bulgaria. The first faceted (with constant 16+16=32 facets on each side of the bead) carnelian beads are described from the Varna Chalcolithic necropolis (middle of the 5th millennium BC). [4] The bow drill was used to drill holes into carnelian in Mehrgarh in the 4th-5th millennium BC. [5] Carnelian was recovered from Bronze Age Minoan layers at Knossos on Crete in a form that demonstrated its use in decorative arts; [6] this use dates to approximately 1800 BC. Carnelian was used widely during Roman times to make engraved gems for signet or seal rings for imprinting a seal with wax on correspondence or other important documents. Hot wax does not stick to carnelian. [7] Sard was used for Assyrian cylinder seals, Egyptian and Phoenician scarabs, and early Greek and Etruscan gems. [8] The Hebrew odem (also translated as sardius), the first stone in the High Priest's breastplate, was a red stone, probably sard but perhaps red jasper. [8] In Revelation 4:3, the One seated on the heavenly throne seen in the vision of John the apostle is said to "look like jasper and 'σαρδίῳ' (sardius transliterated)." And likewise it is in Revelation 21:20 as one of the precious stones in the foundations of the wall of the heavenly city. [9]

Carnelian intaglio with a Ptolemaic queen, Hellenistic artwork, Cabinet des Medailles Carnelian intaglio Prolemaic queen CdM Paris.jpg
Carnelian intaglio with a Ptolemaic queen, Hellenistic artwork, Cabinet des Médailles

There is a Neo-Assyrian seal made of carnelian in the Western Asiatic Seals collection of the British Museum that shows Ishtar-Gula as a star goddess. She is holding a ring of royal authority and is seated on a throne. She is shown with the spade of Marduk (his symbol), Sibbiti (seven) gods, the stylus of Nabu and a worshiper. An 8th century BC carnelian seal from the collection of the Ashmolean Museum shows Ishtar-Gula with her dog facing the spade of Marduk and his red dragon. [10]


Although now the more common term, "carnelian" is a 16th-century corruption of the 14th-century word "cornelian" (and its associated orthographies corneline and cornalyn). [11] Cornelian, cognate with similar words in several Romance languages, comes from the Mediaeval Latin corneolus, itself derived from the Latin word cornum, the cornel cherry, [12] whose translucent red fruits resemble the stone. The Oxford English Dictionary calls "carnelian" a perversion of "cornelian," by subsequent analogy with the Latin word caro, carnis, flesh. According to Pliny the Elder, sard derived its name from the city of Sardis in Lydia from which it came, and according to others, may ultimately be related to the Persian word سرد sered, meaning yellowish red. [8] Sarx in Greek means "flesh", and other stones have similar naming, such as the onyx stone in sardonyx, which came from Greek for "claw" or "fingernail" because onyx with flesh-colored and white bands can resemble a fingernail. [13] So this type of use analogy may have been more widespread.

Distinction between carnelian and sard

The names carnelian and sard are often used interchangeably, but they can also be used to describe distinct subvarieties. The general differences are as follows: [8]

Comparison of carnelian and sard
ColorLighter, with shades ranging from orange to reddish brownDarker, with shades ranging from a deep reddish brown to almost black
HardnessSofterHarder and tougher
FractureUneven, splintery and conchoidalLike carnelian, but duller and more hackly (having the appearance of something that has been hacked, i.e. jagged)

All of these properties vary across a continuum, so the boundary between carnelian and sard is inherently blurry.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Agate is a common rock formation, consisting of chalcedony and quartz as its primary components, with a wide variety of colors. Agates are primarily formed within volcanic and metamorphic rocks. The ornamental use of agate was common in Ancient Greece, in assorted jewelry and in the seal stones of Greek warriors, while bead necklaces with pierced and polished agate date back to the 3rd millennium BCE in the Indus Valley civilisation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jewellery</span> Form of personal adornment

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  2. 1 2 Carnelian on
  3. Websters New World College Dictionary. Fourth Edition. 2001. Editor in chief Michael Agnes.
  4. Kostov & Pelevina (2008).
  5. Kulke, Hermann & Rothermund, Dietmar (2004). A History of India. Routledge. 22. ISBN   0-415-32920-5.
  6. C. Michael Hogan, Knossos fieldnotes, Modern Antiquarian (2007)
  7. Section 12 of the translation of Weilue - a 3rd-century Chinese text by John Hill under "carnelian" and note 12.12 (17)
  8. 1 2 3 4 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sard"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  9. Revelation 4:3
  10. Dalley, Stephanie (29 November 2007). Esther's Revenge at Susa: From Sennacherib to Ahasuerus. Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780199216635 . Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  11. "Cornelian". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  12. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Carnelian"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  13. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  14. "Site officiel du musée du Louvre".
  15. Guimet, Musée (2016). Les Cités oubliées de l'Indus: Archéologie du Pakistan (in French). FeniXX réédition numérique. pp. 354–355. ISBN   9782402052467.
  16. Art of the first cities: the third millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus. p.  395.
  17. Nandagopal, Prabhakar (2018). Decorated Carnelian Beads from the Indus Civilization Site of Dholavira (Great Rann of Kachchha, Gujarat). Archaeopress Publishing Ltd. ISBN   978-1-78491-917-7.
  18. "Egyptian - Necklace". The Walters Art Museum.

Further reading

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