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The Stone You’d Better Not Touch

галенит
Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

This stone consists for almost 90% of one of the most toxic but also highly demanded metals, whose name is lead. Too much lead circulating in the human body triggers inevitable death, which is indeed one of the reasons why galena extraction will be soon put a stop to. But as for now, this mineral is a cause of multiple deaths.

галенит
Фото © Горный музей

Many years had passed before people found out galenite was dangerous to human health. Ancient Egyptians found a use for the mineral as a cosmetic substance. They created the first-ever mascara, which was made of galena with the addition of sulphur and animal fat. With that said, it is rare for someone to know that both Egyptian men and women were drawing eyeliner arrows not because they wanted to look better. The real reason was that black paint helped them protect their eyes from the bright sunlight and infections of the conjunctiva. Besides, people of Egypt thought galena could assist women suffering from pregnancy complications. Egyptians used to make potions of the mineral for this purpose. The very same infusion was believed to relieve spasms and help to treat skin diseases.

Lead sulphide was also popular among people since they could extract silver from it. The Spanish were the first to make an attempt at mining the precious metal. Over forty thousand slaves were forced to work in silver mines of New Carthage (now Cartagena, Spain), with their primary aim being to recover galena. They had to crush the mineral first and then rinse it in water through a sieve. The procedure was repeated no less than five times to isolate a pure metal in the sediment.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

As for other areas of application, the wine industry should be mentioned as well. During the Classical Period, people were making lead sugar from galena and adding it into winy beverages, thus preventing wine from tasting sour. It is hard to say how many persons got poisoned with such wine, for the law prohibiting the use of such additives was introduced only in the 15th century.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

The Russians, in turn, were covering church towers and building water pipes with smelted from galena lead. First water supply system in Russia was built in the Tsar’s palace, and it was constructed of lead tubes. For almost seventy years, the royal household was being continuously poisoned with water, the content of the hazardous substance in which exceeded the acceptable level by a hundred times.

Galena still remains valued as the primary source of lead, but replacement options are already being examined. The main problem is that miners who work in the quarries are exposed to the risks of severe intoxication. Therefore, the mineral’s use in practice has been already put some restrictions on.

галенит
Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Collectors’ interest towards lead glance is mostly limited to either purest samples or peculiar stone aggregates with cubic crystals. A specific feature of galena is that it is hard to be confused with other minerals. The shape of its crystals is ideal; even if one would hit the specimen with a hammer, it does not break but goes to smaller pieces, all holding the original shape.