Last updated
Cinnabarit 01.jpg
Category Sulfide mineral
(repeating unit)
Mercury(II) sulfide, HgS
Strunz classification 2.CD.15a
Crystal system Trigonal
Crystal class Trapezohedral (32)
(same H–M symbol)
Space group P3121, P3221
Unit cell a = 4.145(2) Å, c = 9.496(2) Å, Z = 3
Color Cochineal-red, towards brownish red and lead-gray
Crystal habit Rhombohedral to tabular; granular to massive and as incrustations
Twinning Simple contact twins, twin plane {0001}
Cleavage Prismatic {1010}, perfect
Fracture Uneven to subconchoidal
Tenacity Slightly sectile
Mohs scale hardness2.0–2.5
Luster Adamantine to dull
Streak Scarlet
Diaphaneity Transparent in thin pieces
Specific gravity 8.176
Optical propertiesUniaxial (+)
Refractive index nω = 2.905 nε = 3.256
Birefringence δ = 0.351
Solubility 1.04×10−25 g/100 ml water
(Ksp at 25 °C = 2×10−32) [1]
References [2] [3] [4] [5]

Cinnabar ( /ˈsɪnəbɑːr/ ) or cinnabarite ( /sɪnəˈbɑːrt/ ), likely deriving from the Ancient Greek : κιννάβαρι [6] (kinnabari), is the bright scarlet to brick-red form of mercury(II) sulfide (HgS). It is the most common source ore for refining elemental mercury, and is the historic source for the brilliant red or scarlet pigment termed vermilion and associated red mercury pigments.


Cinnabar generally occurs as a vein-filling mineral associated with recent volcanic activity and alkaline hot springs. The mineral resembles quartz in symmetry and in its exhibiting birefringence. Cinnabar has a mean refractive index near 3.2, a hardness between 2.0 and 2.5, and a specific gravity of approximately 8.1. The color and properties derive from a structure that is a hexagonal crystalline lattice belonging to the trigonal crystal system, crystals that sometimes exhibit twinning.

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

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


The name comes from Ancient Greek : κιννάβαρι [6] (kinnabari), [7] a Greek word most likely applied by Theophrastus to several distinct substances. [6] Other sources say the word comes from the Urdu : شنگرفshangarf (Arabicized as زنجفرةzinjifra). [8] In Latin, it was sometimes known as minium, meaning also "red cinnamon", though both of these terms now refer specifically to lead tetroxide. [9]

Properties and structure


Cinnabar is generally found in a massive, granular or earthy form and is bright scarlet to brick-red in color, though it occasionally occurs in crystals with a nonmetallic adamantine luster. [10] [11] It resembles quartz in its symmetry. It exhibits birefringence, and it has the second highest refractive index of any mineral. [12] Its mean refractive index is 3.08 (sodium light wavelengths), [13] versus the indices for diamond and the non-mineral gallium(III) arsenide (GaAs), which are 2.42 and 3.93, respectively. The hardness of cinnabar is 2.0–2.5 on the Mohs scale, and its specific gravity 8.1. [5]


Crystal structure of cinnabar: yellow = sulfur, grey = mercury, green = cell Cinnabar crystal structure.png
Crystal structure of cinnabar: yellow = sulfur, grey = mercury, green = cell

Structurally, cinnabar belongs to the trigonal crystal system. [5] It occurs as thick tabular or slender prismatic crystals or as granular to massive incrustations. [3] Crystal twinning occurs as simple contact twins. [4]

Note, mercury(II) sulfide, HgS, adopts the cinnabar structure described, and one additional structure, i.e. it is dimorphous. [14] Cinnabar is the more stable form, and is a structure akin to that of HgO: each Hg center has two short Hg−S bonds (each 2.36 Å), and four longer Hg···S contacts (with 3.10, 3.10, 3.30, and 3.30 Å separations). In addition, HgS is found in a black, non-cinnabar polymorph (metacinnabar) that has the zincblende structure. [4]


Cinnabar mercury ore from Nevada, United States Cinnabar09.jpg
Cinnabar mercury ore from Nevada, United States

Cinnabar generally occurs as a vein-filling mineral associated with recent volcanic activity and alkaline hot springs. Cinnabar is deposited by epithermal ascending aqueous solutions (those near surface and not too hot) far removed from their igneous source.https: [15] It is associated with native mercury, stibnite, realgar, pyrite, marcasite, opal, quartz, chalcedony, dolomite, calcite and barite. [3]

Cinnabar is essentially found in all mineral extraction localities that yield mercury, notably Almadén (Spain). This mine was exploited from Roman times until 1991, being for centuries the most important cinnabar deposit in the world. Good cinnabar crystals have also been found there. [16] [17] Cinnabar deposits also appear in Giza (Egypt); Puerto Princesa (Philippines); New Almaden (California); Hastings Mine and St. John's Mine, Vallejo, California (United States); [18] [ page needed ][ better source needed ] Idrija (Slovenia); New Idria, California (United States); Moschellandsberg  [ de ] near Obermoschel in the Palatinate; La Ripa, at the foot of the Apuan Alps and in the Mount Amiata (Tuscany, Italy); the mountain Avala (Serbia); Huancavelica (Peru); Murfreesboro, Arkansas (United States); Terlingua, Texas (United States); and the province of Guizhou in China, where fine crystals have been obtained. It was also mined near Red Devil, Alaska on the middle Kuskokwim River. Red Devil was named after the Red Devil cinnabar mine, a primary source of mercury. It has been found in Dominica near its sulfur springs at the southern end of the island along the west coast. [19]

Cinnabar is still being deposited at the present day, such as from the hot waters of Sulphur Bank Mine [20] in California and Steamboat Springs, Nevada. [21]

Cinnabar crystals of an individual size of one centimeter, on quartz. Almaden (Ciudad Real) Spain. Coll. Museum of the School of Mining Engineers of Madrid. Cinnabar-1cm- xl-Almaden.jpg
Cinnabar crystals of an individual size of one centimeter, on quartz. Almadén (Ciudad Real) Spain. Coll. Museum of the School of Mining Engineers of Madrid.

Mining and extraction of mercury

Apparatus for the distillation of cinnabar, Alchimia, 1570 Alchimia 1570 p 9.tif
Apparatus for the distillation of cinnabar, Alchimia, 1570

As the most common source of mercury in nature, [22] cinnabar has been mined for thousands of years, even as far back as the Neolithic Age. [23] During the Roman Empire it was mined both as a pigment, [24] [25] and for its mercury content. [25] :XLI

To produce liquid mercury (quicksilver), crushed cinnabar ore is roasted in rotary furnaces. Pure mercury separates from sulfur in this process and easily evaporates. A condensing column is used to collect the liquid metal, which is most often shipped in iron flasks. [26]


Associated modern precautions for use and handling of cinnabar arise from the toxicity of the mercury component, which was recognized as early as in ancient Rome. [27] Because of its mercury content, cinnabar can be toxic to human beings. Overexposure to mercury, mercurialism, was seen as an occupational disease to the ancient Romans. Though people in ancient South America often used cinnabar for art, or processed it into refined mercury (as a means to gild silver and gold to objects) the toxic properties of mercury were well known. It was dangerous to those who mined and processed cinnabar; it caused shaking, loss of sense, and death. Data suggests that mercury was retorted from cinnabar and the workers were exposed to the toxic mercury fumes. [28] "Mining in the Spanish cinnabar mines of Almadén, 225 km (140 mi) southwest of Madrid, was regarded as being akin to a death sentence due to the shortened life expectancy of the miners, who were slaves or convicts." [29]

Decorative use

Cinnabar has been used for its color since antiquity in the Near East, including as a rouge-type cosmetic, [27] in the New World since the Olmec culture, and in China for writing on Oracle bones as early as the Zhou dynasty. Late in the Song dynasty it was used in coloring lacquerware.[ citation needed ]

Cinnabar's use as a color in the New World, since the Olmec culture, [30] is exemplified by its use in royal burial chambers during the peak of Maya civilization, most dramatically in the 7th-century Tomb of the Red Queen in Palenque, where the remains of a noble woman and objects belonging to her in her sarcophagus were completely covered with bright red powder made from cinnabar. [31]

The most popularly known use of cinnabar is in Chinese carved lacquerware, a technique that apparently originated in the Song dynasty. [32] The danger of mercury poisoning may be reduced in ancient lacquerware by entraining the powdered pigment in lacquer, [33] [ page needed ] but could still pose an environmental hazard if the pieces were accidentally destroyed. In the modern jewellery industry, the toxic pigment is replaced by a resin-based polymer that approximates the appearance of pigmented lacquer.[ citation needed ]

Chinese carved cinnabar lacquerware, late Qing dynasty. Adilnor Collection, Sweden. Chinese carved cinnabar lacquerware.jpg
Chinese carved cinnabar lacquerware, late Qing dynasty. Adilnor Collection, Sweden.

Two female mummies dated A.D. 1399 to 1475 found in Cerro Esmeralda in Chile in 1976 had clothes colored with cinnabar. [34]

Other forms

See also

Related Research Articles

Lazurite A tectosilicate mineral and a member of the sodalite group

Lazurite is a tectosilicate mineral with sulfate, sulfur and chloride with formula (Na,Ca)8[(S,Cl,SO4,OH)2|(Al6Si6O24)]. It is a feldspathoid and a member of the sodalite group. Lazurite crystallizes in the isometric system although well‐formed crystals are rare. It is usually massive and forms the bulk of the gemstone lapis lazuli.


Bornite, also known as peacock ore, is a sulfide mineral with chemical composition Cu5FeS4 that crystallizes in the orthorhombic system (pseudo-cubic).

Galena natural mineral form of lead sulfide

Galena, also called lead glance, is the natural mineral form of lead(II) sulfide (PbS). It is the most important ore of lead and an important source of silver.

Vermilion Color

Vermilion is both a brilliant red or scarlet pigment, originally made from the powdered mineral cinnabar, and the corresponding color. It was widely used in the art and decoration of Ancient Rome, in the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, in the paintings of the Renaissance and in the art and lacquerware of China.

Realgar Sulfide mineral

Realgar, α-As4S4, is an arsenic sulfide mineral, also known as "ruby sulphur" or "ruby of arsenic". It is a soft, sectile mineral occurring in monoclinic crystals, or in granular, compact, or powdery form, often in association with the related mineral, orpiment (As2S3). It is orange-red in color, melts at 320 °C, and burns with a bluish flame releasing fumes of arsenic and sulfur. Realgar is soft with a Mohs hardness of 1.5 to 2 and has a specific gravity of 3.5. Its streak is orange colored. It is trimorphous with pararealgar and bonazziite. Its name comes from the Arabic rahj al-ġār (رهج الغار, "powder of the mine"), via Catalan and Medieval Latin, and its earliest record in English is in the 1390s.


Orpiment is a deep-colored, orange-yellow arsenic sulfide mineral with formula As
. It is found in volcanic fumaroles, low-temperature hydrothermal veins, and hot springs and is formed both by sublimation and as a byproduct of the decay of another arsenic mineral, realgar. Orpiment takes its name from the Latin auripigmentum because of its deep-yellow color.

Alunite Alunite supergroup, sulfate mineral

Alunite is a hydroxylated aluminium potassium sulfate mineral, formula KAl3(SO4)2(OH)6. It was first observed in the 15th century at Tolfa, near Rome, where it was mined for the manufacture of alum. First called aluminilite by J.C. Delamétherie in 1797, this name was contracted by François Beudant three decades later to alunite.

Mercury sulfide

Mercury sulfide, mercuric sulfide, mercury sulphide, or mercury(II) sulfide is a chemical compound composed of the chemical elements mercury and sulfur. It is represented by the chemical formula HgS. It is virtually insoluble in water.

Sulphur Bank Mine

The Sulphur Bank Mine is located near Clearlake Oaks and Clear Lake in Lake County, California. The 150-acre (0.61 km2) mine became one of the most noted mercury producers in the world.

New Almaden United States historic place

The New Almaden quicksilver mine in the Capitancillas range in Santa Clara County, California, United States, is the oldest and most productive mercury mine in the U.S. The site was known to the indigenous Ohlone people for its cinnabar long before a Mexican settler became aware of the ores in 1820. By the time they were identified as mercury, the mine was perfectly timed to supply the California Gold Rush. The mine ran intermittently after 1927 and eventually closed. It was purchased by the county and is now part of Almaden Quicksilver County Park.


Lorándite is a thallium arsenic sulfosalt with the chemical formula: TlAsS2. Though rare, it is the most common thallium-bearing mineral. Lorandite occurs in low-temperature hydrothermal associations and in gold and mercury ore deposits. Associated minerals include stibnite, realgar, orpiment, cinnabar, vrbaite, greigite, marcasite, pyrite, tetrahedrite, antimonian sphalerite, arsenic and barite.

Native metal Metal that is found in its metallic form, either pure or as an alloy, in nature

A native metal is any metal that is found pure in its metallic form in nature. Metals that can be found as native deposits singly or in alloys include aluminium, antimony, arsenic, bismuth, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, indium, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, niobium, rhenium, selenium, tantalum, tellurium, tin, titanium, tungsten, vanadium, and zinc, as well as the gold group and the platinum group. Among the alloys found in native state have been brass, bronze, pewter, German silver, osmiridium, electrum, white gold, silver-mercury amalgam, and gold-mercury amalgam.


Corderoite is an extremely rare mercury sulfide chloride mineral with formula Hg3S2Cl2. It crystallizes in the isometric crystal system. It is soft, 1.5 to 2 on the Mohs scale, and varies in color from light gray to black and rarely pink or yellow.

Mercury (element) Chemical element with atomic number 80

Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is commonly known as quicksilver and was formerly named hydrargyrum. A heavy, silvery d-block element, mercury is the only metallic element that is liquid at standard conditions for temperature and pressure; the only other element that is liquid under these conditions is the halogen bromine, though metals such as caesium, gallium, and rubidium melt just above room temperature.

Clearcreekite is a carbonate mineral, polymorphous with peterbaylissite. The chemical formula of clearcreekite is Hg1+3CO3(OH)∙2H2O. It has a pale greenish yellow color and streak with tabular subhedral crystals and good cleavage on {001}. It is transparent with vitreous luster and uneven fracture. Its density (calculated from the idealized formula) is 6.96 g/cm3. The mineral is monoclinic with the space group P2/c. Clearcreekite is an extremely rare mineral from the Clear Creek mercury mine, New Idria district, San Benito County, California. It was probably formed after the alteration of other mercury minerals such as cinnabar. The mineral is named after the locality where it was found.


Coloradoite, also known as mercury telluride (HgTe), is a rare telluride ore associated with metallic deposit. Gold usually occurs within tellurides, such as coloradoite, as a high-finess native metal.


Getchellite is a rare sulfide of arsenic and antimony, AsSbS3, that was discovered by B. G. Weissberg of the New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in 1963, and approved as a new species by the International Mineralogical Association in 1965. Many metal sulfides are grey to black, but a few are brightly colored. Orpiment is yellow to brownish gold, cinnabar is deep red and getchellite is a bright orange red.


Millerite is a nickel sulfide mineral, NiS. It is brassy in colour and has an acicular habit, often forming radiating masses and furry aggregates. It can be distinguished from pentlandite by crystal habit, its duller colour, and general lack of association with pyrite or pyrrhotite.


Metacinnabar is the cubic form of mercury sulfide (HgS). It is the low temperature form and trimorphous with cinnabar and the high temperature hypercinnabar. It occurs with cinnabar in mercury deposits and is associated with native mercury, wurtzite, stibnite, marcasite, realgar, calcite, barite, chalcedony and hydrocarbons.

Kenhsuite Halide-sulfide mineral

Kenhsuite is a mercury sulfide with chloride ions. It was described as a species from specimens obtained at the McDermitt mine, in Opalite, Humboldt Nevada county, (USA). The name is a tribute to Dr. Kenneth Junghwa Hsu. Professor Emeritus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (Switzerland).


  1. Myers, R. J. (1986). "The new low value for the second dissociation constant of H2S. Its history, its best value, and its impact on teaching sulfide equilibria". Journal of Chemical Education . 63: 689.
  2. "Cinnabar". Mineralienatlas.
  3. 1 2 3 "Cinnabar (HgS)" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-07-24.
  4. 1 2 3 "Cinnabar: Cinnabar mineral information and data". Mindat. Retrieved 2015-07-24.
  5. 1 2 3 "Cinnabar Mineral Data". Webmineral. Retrieved 2015-07-24.
  6. 1 2 3 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cinnabar"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 376.
  7. "Cinnabar". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  8. "Cinnabar Meaning in Urdu" . Retrieved 2021-03-15.
  9. Thompson, Daniel V. (1956). The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting. Chicago, IL: Dover (R. R. Donnelley-Courier). pp. 100–102.
  10. King, R. J. (2002). "Minerals Explained 37: Cinnabar". Geology Today. 18 (5): 195–199. doi:10.1046/j.0266-6979.2003.00366.x.
  11. Klein, Cornelis; Hurlbut, Cornelius S., Jr (1985). Manual of Mineralogy (20th ed.). Wiley. p.  281. ISBN   0-471-80580-7.
  12. "Table of Refractive Indices and Double Refraction of Selected Gems - IGS". International Gem Society. Retrieved 2020-01-22.
  13. Schumann, W. (1997). Gemstones of the World . New York, NY: Sterling. ISBN   0-8069-9461-4.[ page needed ]
  14. Wells, A. F. (1984). Structural Inorganic Chemistry. Oxford, Oxon: Clarendon Press. ISBN   0-19-855370-6.[ page needed ]
  15. "Thermal Springs and Epithermal Ore Deposits". GeoScienceWorld.
  16. Calvo, Miguel (2003). Minerales y Minas de España. Vol. II. Sulfuros y sulfosales. Vitoria, Spain: Sulfuros y sulfosales. Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Alava. pp. 355–359. ISBN   84-7821-543-3.
  17. "Cinnabar. Spain". Mindat.
  18. Hogan, C. Michael; Papineau, Marc; et al. (Sep 1989). Environmental Assessment of the Columbus Parkway Widening between Ascot Parkway and the Northgate Development, Vallejo (Report). Earth Metrics Inc. Report 7853. California State Clearinghouse.[ page needed ]
  19. "Arsenian Pyrite and Cinnabar from Active Submarine Nearshore Vents, Paleochori Bay, Milos Island, Greece". MDPI, Minerals Journal. Retrieved 2021-03-15.
  20. "Cinnabar from Sulphur Bank Mine (Sulfur Bank Mine; Sulphur Bank deposits), Clear Lake Oaks, Sulphur Creek Mining District (Sulfur Creek Mining District; Wilbur Springs Mining District), Lake Co., California, USA". Mindat. Retrieved 2021-03-15.
  21. "Cinnabar from Steamboat Springs mine, Steamboat Springs Mining District, Washoe Co., Nevada, USA". Mindat. Retrieved 2021-03-15.
  22. "Natural Sources: Mercury". Environment Canada. Retrieved 2015-07-24.
  23. Martín Gil, J.; Martín Gil, F. J.; Delibes de Castro, G.; Zapatero Magdaleno, P.; Sarabia Herrero, F. J. (1995). "The first known use of vermillion". Experientia. 51 (8): 759–761. doi:10.1007/BF01922425. ISSN   0014-4754. PMID   7649232. S2CID   21900879.
  24. Vitruvius. De architectura. VII. 4–5.[ non-primary source needed ]
  25. 1 2 Pliny. Natural History. XXXIII. 36–42.[ non-primary source needed ]
  26. "Concentration of Isotopes of Mercury in Countercurrent Molecular Stills" (PDF). Journal of Research of the National Bureau of Standards. Retrieved 2021-03-15.
  27. 1 2 Stewart, Susan (2014). "'Gleaming and deadly white': Toxic cosmetics in the Roman world". In Wexler, Philip (ed.). History of Toxicology and Environmental Health: Toxicology in Antiquity. II. New York, NY: Academic Press. p. 84. ISBN   978-0-12-801634-3 . Retrieved 2015-07-24.
  28. Petersen, G. (2010). Mining and Metallurgy in Ancient Peru. Special Paper 467. Boulder, CO: The Geological Society of America. p. 29.
  29. Hayes, A. W. (2014). Principles and Methods of Toxicology (6th ed.). New York, NY: Informa Healthcare. p. 10. ISBN   978-1-842-14537-1.
  30. "New World's Oldest". Time Magazine. 1957-07-29.
  31. Healy, Paul F.; Blainey, Marc G. (2011). "Ancient Maya mosaic mirrors: Function, symbolism, and meaning". Ancient Mesoamerica. 22 (2): 230. doi:10.1017/S0956536111000241.
  32. Rawson, Jessica, ed. (2007). The British Museum Book of Chinese Art (2nd ed.). British Museum Press. p. 178. ISBN   9780714124469.
  33. Dietrich, R. V. (2005). "Cinnabar". Gemrocks: Ornamental & Curio Stones. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.[ page needed ]
  34. "Dressed to Kill: Chilean Mummies' Clothes Were Colored with Deadly Toxin".
  35. "Hepatic Cinnabar: Hepatic Cinnabar mineral information and data".
  36. Shepard, Charles Upham (1832). Treatise on Mineralogy. Hezekiah Howe. p. 132.
  37. "Hypercinnabar: Hypercinnabar mineral information and data". Mindat.
  38. "Metacinnabar: Metacinnabar mineral information and data". Mindat.
  39. Holleman, A. F.; Wiberg, E. (2001). Inorganic Chemistry. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. ISBN   0-12-352651-5.[ page needed ]

Further reading