Hematite, a shapeshifting mineral from the Stone Age

Although hematite is primarily mined for iron, there are several other uses for the mineral dating back to early civilizations.

Hematite is one of the main ingredients of “red ochre”, a pigment used for paints, makeup, enamels and early Paleolithic cave drawings. Rust and rust-derived minerals naturally tint red, so early civilizations always had access to this color. Red ocher was also used in Renaissance paintings.

Since hematite can occur in highly metallic and crystalline forms, it is also used in jewelry. When polished or tumbled, the mineral can give off a smooth metallic appearance, making it perfect for beads of all shapes and sizes.

The mineral has also been used as a “healing stone” believed to alleviate medical problems such as anemia, leg cramps and insomnia. However, these claims have no scientific basis.

But there is a real medical use for hematite: it can stop X-rays and is therefore used in radiation protection for medical equipment.

However, these other uses of hematite do not represent a significant portion of the mineral’s overall use, not when compared to iron production.

Although hematite can be found virtually anywhere in the world, large quantities are mined in countries like China, Brazil, Venezuela, Australia, and South Africa, as well as the United States and in Canada. Some of these mines extract more than 100 million tons of iron ore (which includes hematite, magnetite, and other products) each year.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

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