Exploring the ancient chemistry of mercury

Marianna Marchini1, Massimo Gandolfi1, Lucia Maini1, Lucia Raggetti2, and Matteo Martelli2
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA (PNAS) 119 (14) e2119194119 Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2123171119]
1Department of Chemistry “Giacomo Ciamician”, University of Bologna, 40126, Bologna, Italy
2Department of Philosophy and Communication Studies, University of Bologna, 40126, Bologna, Italy

Sulfate aerosols have long been implicated as a primary forcing agent of climate change and mass extinction in the aftermath of the end-Cretaceous Chicxulub bolide impact. However, uncertainty remains regarding the quantity, residence time, and degree to which impact-derived sulfur transited the This paper explores the chemistry of mercury as described in ancient alchemical literature. Alchemy’s focus on the knowledge and manipulation of natural substances is not so different from modern chemistry’s purposes. The great divide between the two is marked by the way of conceptualizing and recording their practices. Our interdisciplinary research group, composed of chemists and historians of science, has set off to explore the cold and hot extraction of mercury from cinnabar. The ancient written records have been perused in order to devise laboratory experiments that could shed light on the material reality behind the alchemical narratives and interpret textual details in a unique perspective. In this way, it became possible to translate the technical lore of ancient alchemy into the modern language of chemistry. Thanks to the replication of alchemical practices, chemistry can regain its centuries-long history that has fallen into oblivion.


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