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An ornamental green mineral composed of hydrated magnesium silicate. Serpentine can range in color from yellow, green, gray, brown, or black and often contains crystals of green olivine and black veins or patches. Serpentine has been gathered or mined since Paleolithic times. It occurs in several varieties. Antigorite is a soft, coarse-grain form that has a dull, waxy color. Antigorite was used in Egypt in the Pharaonic period for small vessels, amulets, and scarabs. A second variety, chrysotile, is harder with a silky, fibrous structure. Chrysotile, found in Cyprus and Afghanistan, was used for beads, amulets, seals, and inlays and was often misnamed as jade (Ogden 1982). Another variety, lizardite, can be a mottlish yellow with dark gray or black patches. One type of serpentine, called bowenite, was a favorite of Chinese carvers. Serpentine is mined in Egypt, England (Cornwall), China, Canada (Quebec), Italy, Norway, Russia, South Africa, and the United States (Deer Isle, California). It is used as a building stone and as a source of asbestos.


Synonyms and Related Terms

serpentina (Esp., Port.); serpentine (Fr.); Serpentin (Deut.); serpentijn (Ned.); antigorite; chrysotile; black jasper; Genoa green; Alpine green; Tinos green; verde antique; green marble; marmolite; picrolite; asbestos; Deer Isle; bowenite; lizardite




MFA- Serpentine, antigorite.jpg

Other Properties

Low birefringence. May be translucent to opaque.

Monoclinic, crystals rare, usually massive (antigorite) or fibrous (chrysotile).

Fracture =conchoidal (antigorite) or uneven (chrysotile). Streak = white.

Composition Mg3Si2O5(OH)4
Mohs Hardness 2 - 6
Density 2.2-2.65

Hazards and Safety

Noncombustible. The fibers from chrysotile (asbestos) are highly toxic by inhalation.

Additional Information

° J. Ogden, Jewelry of the Ancient World, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, 1982.° Mineralogy Database: Clinochrysotile

Additional Images

Sources Checked for Data in Record

  • Jack Odgen, Jewellery of the Ancient World, Rizzoli International Publications Inc., New York City, 1982
  • Luciana and Tiziano Mannoni, Marble: the history of a culture, Facts on File Publications
  • C.W.Chesterman, K.E.Lowe, Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Rocks and Minerals, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1979
  • R.F.Symmes, T.T.Harding, Paul Taylor, Rocks, Fossils and Gems, DK Publishing, Inc., New York City, 1997
  • A.Lucas, J.R.Harris, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries, Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd., London, 4th edition, 1962
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 702
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • George Savage, Art and Antique Restorer's Handbook, Rockliff Publishing Corp, London, 1954
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996
  • CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, Robert Weast (ed.), CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, v. 61, 1980 Comment: density=2.50-5.65
  • Michael McCann, Artist Beware, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York City, 1979
  • Random House, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Book, New York, 1997
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998

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