The pigment vermillion is a vivid orange color, and it is derived from a highly toxic form of the mineral mercury called cinnabar. But that didn't stop our ancestors from using it to paint walls and figurines, beginning at least 9,000 years ago.
The Red Queen Burial at the Maya site of Palenque was coated with cinnabar, accounting for the vermillion interior of the sarcophagus. Photo by Dennis Jarvis
The first evidence for the use of cinnabar comes from the ancient Neolithic community of Çatalhöyük in Turkey; but there have been many other circumstances all over the world where vermillion took an important symbolic role.