Many substances were employed in ancient medicine: galena was the basis of a valuable Egyptian cosmetic and drug; the arsenic sulphides, realgar and orpiment, litharge, alum, saltpetre, iron rust were also used.
Among the Arabian and later alchemists we find attempts made to collate compounds by specific properties, and it is to these writers that we are mainly indebted for such terms as "alkali," " sal," &c. The mineral acids, hydrochloric, nitric and sulphuric acids, and also aqua regia (a mixture of hydrochloric and nitric acids) were discovered, and the vitriols, alum, saltpetre, sal-ammoniac, ammonium carbonate, silver nitrate (lunar caustic) became better known.
Glauber showed how to prepare hydrochloric acid, spiritus salis, by heating rock-salt with sulphuric acid, the method in common use to-day; and also nitric acid from saltpetre and arsenic trioxide.
In the combined state nitrogen is fairly widely distributed, being found in nitre, Chile saltpetre, ammonium salts and in various animal and vegetable tissues and liquids.
Its chief mineral products are coal, nitre, sulphur, alum, soda, saltpetre, gypsum, porcelain-earth, pipe-clay, asphalt, petroleum, marble and ores of gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, lead, zinc, antimony, cobalt and arsenic. The principal mining regions are Zsepes-Giimor in Upper Hungary, the Kremnitz-Schemnitz district, the Nagybanya district, the Transylvanian deposits and the Banat.