Inorganic Chemistry

Quicksilver and Quick-thinking: Insight into the Alchemy of Mercury A new interdisciplinary research to discover the chemical reality of ancient alchemical recipes



Ancient alchemical recipes represent an invaluable source to understand how our ancestors described and conceptualised nature. Such recipes were often dismissed as nonsense, or even interpreted as mere allegories for spiritual practices of self-purification. Our research adopts a totally new interdisciplinary outlook through collaboration between chemists and historians of science, to investigate one of the most intriguing of elements, that is mercury. A corpus of ancient sources —in Greek, Latin and Syriac—was scoured in search of information on the extraction of mercury from cinnabar. Following the sources, we replicated the recipes and explored the viability and feasibility of the reactions, as well as the technical underpinnings of the texts, in order to disclose the practical dimensions of ancient alchemy and an unexpected variety of reactions.

Version notes

XRPDs in figure 2 and 3 were mismatched in the prevoius version. In the new verision the figures are correct


Thumbnail image of Quicksilver and Quick-thinking Insight into the Alchemy of Mercury_ new edition_OK.pdf

Supplementary material

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Quicksilver and Quick-thinking Insight into the Alchemy of Mercury_ Supplementary material
material and methods. XRPD original historical sources