Pyrite, also known as “fool’s gold,” has been a crucial element of human history for thousands of years. Its name comes from the Greek word “pyr,” which means fire, and it was carried by people all over the world as a way to light fires on the go for a number of life-preserving uses like keeping warm and having the ability to cook food. Did you think ancient peoples only rubbed sticks together to start fires as needed? (…Don’t feel bad…We actually thought that too!)
Pyrite and the Origins of Pharmacology
But pyrite’s significance goes beyond its use as a fire-starter. It’s an iron-sulfide that can be used to make sulfur, a vital resource historically and today. China was mining pyrite for its sulfur to be used in medicine as early as 300 AD, and sulfur use is even recognized by some as one of the earliest pharmaceuticals or the beginning of pharmacology as a science. This went on for centuries, and sulfur continues to be used in medicine today.
Sulfur extracted from pyrite could be used to treat a variety of ailments, from skin conditions to digestive issues. It was also used for fumigation, as it has insecticidal properties.
Pyrite Crystals in Inventions
Pyrite in its crystal form was also used for a number of inventions related to its uses in creating fire. The original wheel-lock pistol, invented around 1500 AD, involved a steel wheel rotating against a piece of pyrite, which would cause a spark and ignite the gunpowder in the pan.
Pyrite and the Exploration of the Americas
During the 16th century, Spain was shipping huge amounts of gold and silver back to Europe from its American colonies in Peru and Mexico. Cartier’s voyage to Canada was actually funded by the promise of diamonds and gold that turned out to be quartz and pyrite. Over time, discoveries of pyrite believed to be gold financed a series of expeditions to North America. In fact, the first expedition that founded Jamestown was on a quest for gold, encouraged by findings of pyrite pretending to be the coveted metal. Watch the History of Pyrite here.
While some people mistook pyrite for gold, its “worthlessness” could not be further from the truth. Pyrite was a main source of sulfur for most of sulfur’s history and was even responsible for half the world’s sulfur production until the middle of the 20th century. The sulfur that comes from pyrite is often used to make sulfuric acid, one of the most important industrial chemicals.
Sulfuric acid is used for the production of detergents, synthetic resins, pharmaceuticals, petroleum catalysts, insecticides, antifreeze, and more. It’s also used for oil-well acidizing, aluminum reduction, paper sizing, and water treatment. Sulfuric acid is also used in pigments, such as paint, enamel, ink, fabric, and paper. It’s also used in the production of explosives, cellophane, acetate and viscose, textiles, lubricants, nonferrous metals, and batteries. About 69% of sulfuric acid produced is used in the manufacture of fertilizers.
As you can see, pyrite has had a profound impact on human history and continues to play an important role in modern industry. At LuxeRox, we understand the beauty and significance of this fascinating mineral. That’s why we’re excited to offer a crystal subscription box service that sends one palm-sized museum caliber mineral specimen to your door every month. Our Rox Calendar features each “crystal of the month,” and the pyrite cube in matrix is our specimen for January. Subscribe to the LuxeRox crystal subscription box service today to get started on your crystal collection!
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