The origin of the word carnelian is rather unclear. For some, the word comes from the Greek ‘carneolus’ meaning of a flesh appearance. For others, the word refers to the fruits that grow on dogwoods, the cornel. The origin of the fruit’s name is itself derived from the Latin word ‘corneolus’ which refers to the hardness of the fruit’s stone. As early as the 16th century, the name Carnelian was given to the precious stone. In both cases, the etymological origin of the word refers to its red colour. Indeed, it is a precious stone, usually of a very vibrant colour.
In ancient Egypt, carnelian stone was used by the goddess Isis to accompany the dead as they passed to the afterlife. Archaeological excavations in Mesopotamia have uncovered the use of the first stones. It was a protective ornament for pharaohs. This gemstone was frequently found on sacred headdresses accompanied by stones such as lapis lazuli, emerald or turquoise. The colour of the stone evokes sunrise and sunset. Spiritually, the sun god is the most important god in ancient Egypt. The first uses of carnelian were noted around 2700 BC. In addition to being an adornment for royal jewellery, it is found on frescoes and in Egyptian medicine. Since then, it has been used for natural healing purposes. To benefit from carnelian’s virtues, it must have a very vibrant colour, as deep as flesh, with no irregularities.
During the Middle Ages, different regions and civilisations of the world discovered carnelian. Each had a specific use for this stone. It was used by Tibetans and Buddhists for its protective and healing powers. In China, the heat resistance of furnaces allows you to create a powerful colour by mixing carnelian stone with copper oxide. This preparation was intended for the enamelling of fine porcelain. In the East, it is used for its astringent and invigorating attributes. In the West, it is deemed to comfort women and make them likeable and loved. On the battlefield, carnelian provides courage and a warrior spirit. Evoking blood, it is recommended in case of haemorrhage as it can stop bleeding of any kind. Pliny the Elder, a 1st century Roman writer and naturalist, distinguishes between two species: male and female stones. To the Romans, male minerals are the symbol of male origin. These are the purest stones, they have a lively vermilion shade and are extracted from ancient deposits of Babylon, India, the Arabian Peninsula, Ceylon or Greece. On the contrary, female minerals are symbols of female origin. Female stones have a yellow or orange tone. They are much less valuable than vermilion Carnelian stones. To enhance the tone of the dullest carnelian stones, the Romans used thin sheets of gold or silver to embellish their colour. This technique is still practised today.
In Europe, as early as the 17th century, Dutch maritime trade allowed the importation of many precious stones from the East. The mineral lost its rarity and became a stone used for the creation of small decorative objects, jewellery (bracelets, necklaces, pendants) engravings with reliefs or recesses and for engraved rings. During the Renaissance, artists engraved this stone with great refinement. This stone is used exclusively at the expense of lighter minerals. Even today, a homogeneous and vivid colour enhances this precious stone. It is semi-opaque. Some carnelian stones of this species are imperfect and feature spots, irregularities or veins. Generally only scientists are interested in the beauty of these specimens. The intensity and homogeneity of carnelian are a guarantee of quality for collectors or for its medical uses. Today, it is much less used in art and crafting but more widely for its multiple physical and psychological virtues. Few Europeans know of carnelian as there are no deposits. Yet it is widely recognised for its protective power.
Carnelian is a semitransparent gemstone. It is formed in volcanic rock cavities at low temperatures. In its natural state, it is found in many forms. Generally, it takes a round shape made up of numerous microcrystals. Carnelian can also be present in other crystals. Today, the main extraction sites are in India, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, the United States, Mali and Romania. The most famous carnelian stone come from India, in the Pune region.
Carnelian stone is part of the largest group of mineral species on the Earth’s surface: tectosilicates, from the silicate family. It is mostly composed of aluminium oxide and silica. The intensity of its colour can vary depending on the concentration of iron oxide: carnelian can be vermilion orangish or yellowish. To embellish these rocks, there is a thermal treatment process. The vermilion colour is enhanced by heating them or simply exposing them to the sun. This method is also used on agates, which then resemble carnelians. Genuine and vivid natural carnelian stones are highly prized.
It is often confused with other precious minerals and it is often associated with sardoin as both stones are part of the chalcedony family. To better differentiate the two gemstones, special attention must be paid to its colouration. Indeed, sardoin is much less translucent than carnelian featuring a more brownish colouration. Its very fine consistency differentiates it from the texture of agates. The homogeneous red of carnelian distinguishes it from jasper, which has more pronounced zoning.
Today, carnelian stone is found on jewellery (necklaces, bracelets, pendants). In the West, it is widely used for litho therapy. It is an alternative medicine that uses its energy to rebalance the body. It symbolises vitality, due to its blood colour. Since Ancient Egypt, many beneficial virtues and properties have been ascribed to this mineral, both psychologically and physically.
In Western culture, carnelian is little used as it is largely unknown. It is, however, thought to restore strength to the sexual chakra (lumbar). It improves fertility in mothers-to-be. Its virtues are widely used in Muslim and Asian cultures. Yet it has many protective effects on humans and enhanced effects on women, children and the elderly. Its different virtues and strengths have been discovered throughout history by various civilisations.