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PyriteA Natural History of Fool's Gold$
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David Rickard

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780190203672

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190203672.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 29 November 2021

Hell and Black Smokers

Hell and Black Smokers

(p.117) 5 Hell and Black Smokers

David Rickard

Oxford University Press

Most of the important metal ores in medieval and ancient times were pyrite-rich sulfides. These pyrite-rich ores were a major source of a suite of valuable commodities such as sulfur, arsenic, copper, lead, zinc, and nickel, as well as some gold and silver. This is why in 1725 Henckel could devote a 1,000-page volume to pyrites, sensu lato. Because of its relative abundance, its potential economic importance, and its exotic composition compared with the rock-forming minerals, pyrite has played a key role through the ages in developing ideas of how minerals and ore deposits form. During the last century, pyrite became an even more important mineral in discussions of ore genesis because it is also a key component of sediments. This led to conflicting theories of ore genesis, in which the ore minerals were formed in the sediments or introduced later, often by processes related to volcanism. The conflict between adherents of these theories continues to this day. Pyrite constituted a key, but sometimes uncomfortable, mineral in ancient theories of mineral formation. It was relatively common and often economically important. However, it contained sulfur as a key constituent and this contrasted it to many other common minerals and rocks in that this meant that pyrite could be changed by heating. Heating released sulfur from pyrite, leaving a residue of stony slag. The ancients also recognized sulfur as a special material since it occurred in solid, liquid, and gaseous form, rather like water. Any theory of mineral formation needed to explain how this protean element got into pyrite. This problem was compounded by the fact, discussed in Chapter 3, that for some unknown reason the ancients did not know that pyrite contained iron. Ancient theories of mineral formation divide into three categories: (a) the Genesis theory: that all minerals were formed by God during the creation of the Earth; (b) the Aristotelian theory: that all minerals were formed at depth in the Earth through the interactions of the four basic elements; and (c) the Alchemical theory: that minerals were formed from combinations of mercury and sulfur.

Keywords:   Alvin submersible, Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, Biblical Flood, French Oceanographic Institute (IFREMER), Herodotus, Meteorologica (Aristotle), Precambrian, Protestant revolution, Thales of Miletus, Xenophanes

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