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Carneol-Kristalle Magic Stones.jpg
Category Chalcedony variety
(repeating unit)
Silica (silicon dioxide, SiO2)
Crystal system Trigonal
Formula mass 60 g/mol
Cleavage Absent
Fracture Uneven, splintery, conchoidal
Mohs scale hardness6–7
Luster Vitreous, dull, greasy, silky
Streak White
Diaphaneity Translucent
Specific gravity 2.59–2.61
References [1]

Carnelian (also spelled cornelian [2] ) 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. It is most commonly found in Indonesia, Brazil, India, Russia (Siberia), and Germany.



Carnelian intaglio Prolemaic queen CdM Paris.jpg
Carnelian intaglio with a Ptolemaic queen, Hellenistic artwork, Cabinet des Médailles
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). [3] The bow drill was used to drill holes into carnelian in Mehrgarh in the 4th-5th millennium BC. [4] Carnelian was recovered from Bronze Age Minoan layers at Knossos on Crete in a form that demonstrated its use in decorative arts; [5] 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. [6] Sard was used for Assyrian cylinder seals, Egyptian and Phoenician scarabs, and early Greek and Etruscan gems. [7] 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. [7] 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. [8]

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 (שבע or sheva in Hebrew language) gods, stylus of Nabu and a worshiper. An 8th century BCE carnelian seal from the collection of the Ashmolean Museum shows Ishtar-Gula with her dog facing the spade of Marduk and his red dragon. [9]


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). [10] 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, [11] 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. [7] 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. [12] So this type of use analogy may have been more widespread.

Distinction between carnelian and sard

Necklace with gold beads and carnelian beads, Cypriot artwork with Mycenaean inspiration, c. 1400-1200 BC.
From Enkomi. British Museum. Cornelian necklace BM GR1897.4-1.623.jpg
Necklace with gold beads and carnelian beads, Cypriot artwork with Mycenaean inspiration, c. 1400–1200 BC. From Enkomi. British Museum.
Indian carnelian beads with white design, etched in white with an acid, imported to Susa in 2600-1700 BCE. Found in the tell of the Susa acropolis. Louvre Museum, reference Sb 17751. These beads are identical with beads found in the Indus Civilization site of Dholavira. Indus carnelian beads with white design imported to Susa in 2600-1700 BCE LOUVRE Sb 13099.jpg
Indian carnelian beads with white design, etched in white with an acid, imported to Susa in 2600–1700 BCE. Found in the tell of the Susa acropolis. Louvre Museum, reference Sb 17751. These beads are identical with beads found in the Indus Civilization site of Dholavira.
This Egyptian necklace consists of biconical carnelian beads, beads of rolled strips of sheet gold, and ten amulets. The Walters Art Museum. Egyptian - Necklace - Walters 571515 - Detail F.jpg
This Egyptian necklace consists of biconical carnelian beads, beads of rolled strips of sheet gold, and ten amulets. The Walters Art Museum.

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: [7]

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

Agate Rock consisting of cryptocrystalline silica alternating with microgranular quartz

Agate is a common rock formation, consisting of chalcedony and quartz as its primary components, consisting of a wide variety of colors. Agates are primarily formed within volcanic and metamorphic rocks. The ornamental use of agate dates back to Ancient Greece in assorted jewelry and in the seal stones of Greek warriors.

Chalcedony Microcrystalline varieties of silica, may contain moganite as well

Chalcedony is a cryptocrystalline form of silica, composed of very fine intergrowths of quartz and moganite. These are both silica minerals, but they differ in that quartz has a trigonal crystal structure, while moganite is monoclinic. Chalcedony's standard chemical structure (based on the chemical structure of quartz) is SiO2 (silicon dioxide).

Susa Ancient city in Iran

Susa was an ancient city in the lower Zagros Mountains about 250 km (160 mi) east of the Tigris, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers. One of the most important cities of the Ancient Near East, Susa served as the capital of Elam and the Achaemenid Empire, and remained a strategic centre during the Parthian and Sasanian periods.

Jasper Chalcedony variety colored by iron oxide

Jasper, an aggregate of microgranular quartz and/or chalcedony and other mineral phases, is an opaque, impure variety of silica, usually red, yellow, brown or green in color; and rarely blue. The common red color is due to iron(III) inclusions. Jasper breaks with a smooth surface and is used for ornamentation or as a gemstone. It can be highly polished and is used for items such as vases, seals, and snuff boxes. The specific gravity of jasper is typically 2.5 to 2.9. A green variety with red spots, known as heliotrope (bloodstone), is one of the traditional birthstones for March. Jaspillite is a banded-iron-formation rock that often has distinctive bands of jasper.

Onyx Banded variety of the mineral chalcedony

Onyx primarily refers to the parallel banded variety of the silicate mineral chalcedony. Agate and onyx are both varieties of layered chalcedony that differ only in the form of the bands: agate has curved bands and onyx has parallel bands. The colors of its bands range from black to almost every color. Commonly, specimens of onyx contain bands of black and/or white. Onyx, as a descriptive term, has also been applied to parallel banded varieties of alabaster, marble, obsidian and opal, and misleadingly to materials with contorted banding, such as "Cave Onyx" and "Mexican Onyx".

Meluhha Prominent trading partner of Sumer during the Middle Bronze Age

Meluḫḫa or Melukhkha is the Sumerian name of a prominent trading partner of Sumer during the Middle Bronze Age. Its identification remains an open question, but most scholars associate it with the Indus Valley Civilization.

Dzi bead

Dzi bead is a type of stone bead of uncertain origin worn as part of a necklace and sometimes as a bracelet. In several Central Asian cultures, including that of Tibet, the bead is considered to provide positive spiritual benefit. These beads are generally prized as protective amulets and are sometimes ground into a powder to be used in traditional Tibetan medicine. Beads subject to this process have small "dig marks" where a portion of the bead has been scraped or ground away to be included in the medicine. Some dzi exhibit grinding and polishing of one or both ends, again the result of reduction for use in traditional Tibetan medicine or, in some cases, due to the bead's use as a burnishing tool in the application of gold leaf to thanka paintings or gilt bronze statuary.

Moss agate

Moss agate is a semi-precious gemstone formed from silicon dioxide. It is a form of chalcedony which includes minerals of a green color embedded in the stone, forming filaments and other patterns suggestive of moss. The field is a clear or milky-white quartz, and the included minerals are mainly oxides of manganese or iron. It is not a true form of agate, because it does not have concentric banding.

Varna Necropolis Pre-historic burial site

The Varna Necropolis is a burial site in the western industrial zone of Varna, internationally considered one of the key archaeological sites in world prehistory. The oldest gold treasure in the world, dating from 4,600 BC to 4,200 BC, was discovered at the site.

Girsu Sumerian City

Girsu was a city of ancient Sumer, situated some 25 km (16 mi) northwest of Lagash, at the site of modern Tell Telloh, Dhi Qar Governorate, Iraq.

Bhirrana Village in Fatehabad District, in India

Bhirrana, also Bhirdana and Birhana, is an archaeological site, located in a small village in Fatehabad District, in the Indian state of Haryana. Its history stretches back to pre-Indus Valley Civilisation times, as revealed by archaeological discoveries, dating to the 8th-7th millennium BCE. The site is one of the many sites seen along the channels of the seasonal Ghaggar river, thought by some to be the Rigvedic Saraswati river.

Brahmagiri is an archaeological site located in the Chitradurga district of the state of Karnataka, India. Legend has it that this is the site where sage Gautama Maharishi and his wife Ahalya lived. He was one among seven noted Hindu saints. This site was first explored by Benjamin L. Rice in 1891, who discovered rock edicts of Emperor Ashoka here. These rock edicts indicated that the locality was termed as Isila and denoted the southernmost extent of the Mauryan empire. The Brahmagiri site is a granite outcrop elevated about 180 m. above the surrounding plains and measures around 500 m east-west and 100 m north-south. It is well known for the large number of megalithic monuments that have been found here. The earliest settlement found here has been dated to at least the 2nd millennium BC.

Chrome chalcedony

Chrome chalcedony is a green variety of the mineral chalcedony, colored by small quantities of chromium. It is most commonly found in Zimbabwe, where it is known as Mtorolite, Mtorodite, or Matorolite.

A range of gemstones are mentioned in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation. Much has been written about the precise identification of these stones, although largely speculative.

Hardstone carving Artistic carving of semi-precious stones or gems

Hardstone carving is a general term in art history and archaeology for the artistic carving of predominantly semi-precious stones, such as jade, rock crystal, agate, onyx, jasper, serpentinite, or carnelian, and for an object made in this way. Normally the objects are small, and the category overlaps with both jewellery and sculpture. Hardstone carving is sometimes referred to by the Italian term pietre dure; however, pietra dura is the common term used for stone inlay work, which causes some confusion.


Hardstone is a non-scientific term, mostly encountered in the decorative arts or archaeology, that has a similar meaning to semi-precious stones, or gemstones. Very hard building stones, such as granite, are not included in the term in this sense, but only stones which are fairly hard and regarded as attractive – ones which could be used in jewellery. Hardstone carving is the three-dimensional carving for artistic purposes of semi-precious stones such as jade, agate, onyx, rock crystal, sard or carnelian, and a general term for an object made in this way. Two-dimensional inlay techniques for floors, furniture and walls include pietre dure, opus sectile, and medieval Cosmatesque work – these typically inlay hardstone pieces into a background of marble or some other building stone.

Imports to Ur reflect the cultural and trade connections of the Sumerian city of Ur. During the period of the Early Dynastic III royal cemetery, Ur was importing elite goods from geographically distant places. These objects include precious metals such as gold and silver, and semi-precious stones, namely lapis lazuli and carnelian. These objects are all the more impressive considering the distance from which they traveled to reach Mesopotamia and Ur specifically.

Indus–Mesopotamia relations

Indus–Mesopotamia relations are thought to have developed during the second half of 3rd millennium BCE, until they came to a halt with the extinction of the Indus valley civilization after around 1900 BCE. Mesopotamia had already been an intermediary in the trade of lapis lazuli between South Asia and Egypt since at least about 3200 BCE, in the context of Egypt-Mesopotamia relations.

Etched carnelian beads

Etched carnelian beads, or sometimes Bleached carnelian beads, are a type of ancient decorative beads made from carnelian with an etched design in white, which were probably manufactured by the Indus Valley civilization during the 3rd millennium BCE. They were made according to a technique of alkaline-etching developed by the Harappans, and vast quantities of these beads were found in the archaeological sites of the Indus Valley civilization. They are considered as an important marker of ancient trade between the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia and even Ancient Egypt, as these precious and unique manufactured items circulated in great numbers between these geographical areas during the 3rd millennium BCE, and have been found in numerous tomb deposits.


  1. Rudolf Duda and Lubos Rejl: Minerals of the World (Arch Css, 1990)
  2. Websters New World College Dictionary. Fourth Edition. 2001. Editor in chief Michael Agnes.
  3. Kostov & Pelevina (2008).
  4. Kulke, Hermann & Rothermund, Dietmar (2004). A History of India. Routledge. 22. ISBN   0-415-32920-5.
  5. C. Michael Hogan, Knossos fieldnotes, Modern Antiquarian (2007)
  6. Section 12 of the translation of Weilue - a 3rd-century Chinese text by John Hill under "carnelian" and note 12.12 (17)
  7. 1 2 3 4 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sard"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  8. Revelation 4:3
  9. Dalley, Stephanie (29 November 2007). Esther's Revenge at Susa: From Sennacherib to Ahasuerus. Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780199216635 . Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  10. "Cornelian". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  11. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Carnelian"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  12. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  13. "Site officiel du musée du Louvre".
  14. Guimet, Musée (2016). Les Cités oubliées de l'Indus: Archéologie du Pakistan (in French). FeniXX réédition numérique. pp. 354–355. ISBN   9782402052467.
  15. Art of the first cities: the third millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus. p.  395.
  16. 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.
  17. "Egyptian - Necklace". The Walters Art Museum.

Further reading

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