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The ”Stone Killer”

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

This mineral was for a very long time associated mostly with death, since over the course of the centuries it had been a key ingredient of multiple poisons - among its victims were Pope Alexander VI, Mozart, Napoleon, Francesco I (de’ Medici), René Descartes and others. Three hundred years ago, this stone was banned from sale in Russia. These day, the "King of Poisons" is applied for treating childhood cancer.

Arsenic is one of the most "controversial stones” in history. With its help, political opponents got eliminated, court intrigues were spun and love triangles found their resolving. The Chinese were the first to have proved health risks coming from arsenic, whereas Europeans found about this property of the mineral only later. Immediately, a genuine interest in the semi-metal started making its way into the masses.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Arsenic was almost a perfect instrument of murder; each and every killing could be disguised as a common disease. A painful death came as a result of being given meals mixed with arsenic. A person could hardly notice any change, for arsenic is odourless, colourless and tasteless. The downside was that it took a long time for arsenic-based poison to finally take off. In the Middle Ages, arsenic was such a popular means of murder that state leaders often relied on the services of specialists in poisoning. Regular citizens were keen on arsenic as well. There is even a story about a Sicilian woman who was very successful in selling liquids with some medicinal herbs. Her main clients were women willing to hasten their spouses’ death. Once those ladies started adding that liquid in their husbands’ food, those poor men were gradually loosing their appetite resulting in getting weaker and, finally, they ended up dying.

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Фото © pixabay.com

Throughout the Victorian era, many persons poisoned themselves accidentally. Books, wallpapers, clothes - back in those days all of these items could contain poisonous semi-metal. The reason was that the deep green colour, which was very popular among the nobility, was derived from arsenide (compound of arsenic and copper). This paint was used to cover almost all the surfaces, because it remained bright and did not fade. Up to now, numerous Impressionist paintings containing this pigment are on display in museums all over the world.

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Фото © Simon Upton

Arsenic was a favourite murder weapon for many writers - including the globally known Agatha Christie. She often used arsenic to kill off protagonists in her detective stories.

The way arsenic was used in the 20th century was truly shocking: it was one of the ingredients required for producing chemical weapons. Today, people are trying to find more peaceful purpose for applying this mineral. For example, American scientists have recently found out that low doses of arsenic help treating haematological malignancies.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

These days, bying this stone is not a problem at all - there are lots of offers online. One should remember though that this semi-metal is toxic and can be dangerous to health. Surprisingly, there are living organisms which cannot be poisoned by arsenic. An ordinary hedgehog is one notable example of these kinds of species. All they get is a little weakness, without any serious complications.