The Meaning and History of ‘Dragon’s Blood’
The symbolism of cinnabar or dragon’s blood according to The Symbolism of cinnabar or ‘Dragons’ blood:
The village of Niu (literally meaning “cinnabar producing”) was the producing place of red stones, red soil and vermillion (mercury). It is said that the tribes that had the skills in mining and moved from place to place seeking for mineral resources gave the name to this place. Niu Kawakami Shrine Shimo-sha located in Shimoichi-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara Pref. is one of the three Niu Kawakami shrines that have existed since the ancient times. The three shrines are respectively called Kami-sha (the top shrine), Naka-sha (the middle shrine) and Shimo-sha (the bottom shrine). The Shimo shrine enshrines Kura Okami no Kami (the god of water and rain). According to the shrine record, it was founded in 676, when the god said, “If you set up the holy pillars of my shrine in this deep mountain, I will bring the blessed rain instead of the damaging rain for the people of this country.”.. The present Shimo shrine is thought to have been the ancient Kami shrine. (Source: Nippon-kichi 丹生川上神社下社 Niu-kawakami-jinjya-shimo-sya Niu Kawakami Shrine Shimo-sha)
However, cinnabar use in Japan goes back much earlier to Initial and Early Jomon times, becoming common in Late Jomon times, according to Nelly Nauman’s “Japanese Prehistory: The Material and Spiritual Culture of the Jōmon Period“. Red oxide uses were earlier known widely used in burial rituals but as early as Early Jomon, was also used for lacquering wooden and clay vessels. Red was also a popular colour not just in tomb burial usage, but also for colouring craft and fashion items (see The color red and Jomon people).
But the earliest cinnabar ores and production implements were found from the Ojibar site of the Late Jomon period and painted objects from the Shimoda site in Gunma prefecture. Cinnabar production of items for trade was seen from sites south of Ise, like Morizoe and Tenpaku.
Also important locations, according to the above article, on the early cinnabar trail are:
“The Neolithic Vinca culture (4800-3500 BC), located in the Balkans and including the Serbian sites of Plocnik, Belo Brdo, and Bubanj, among others, were early users of cinnabar, likely mined from the Suplja Stena mine on Mount Avala, 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Vinca. Cinnabar occurs in this mine in quartz veins; Neolithic quarrying activities are attested here by the presence of stone tools and ceramic vessels near ancient mine shafts.
In China, the earliest known use of cinnabar is the Yangshao culture (~4000-3500 BC). At several sites, cinnabar covered the walls and floors in buildings used for ritual ceremonies. Cinnabar was among a range of minerals used used to paint Yangshao ceramics, and, at Taosi village, cinnabar was sprinkled into elite burials.”
Cinnabar is known to have been used for at least 2,000 years as part of Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicines and is still used in at least 46 traditional Chinese patent medicines today, making up between 11-13% of Zhu-Sha-An-Shen-Wan, a popular over-the-counter traditional medicine for insomnia, anxiety and depression.
At present, it is uncertain whether cinnabar production techniques in early Japan came from China and Western China sources, or the Caucasus-Siberian Altai Transbaikalian cultures.
“On Kamchatka Penin., at the Tamvatney deposit, cinnabar is represented in the composition of silification list-wanites; on the Chukchi Penin. – in the composition of quartzites and linariteof the Plamennoye deposit; and in Rep. of Tyva – in the composition of sandstones of the Terligkhaiskiy ore center. In the Ukraine, in Donetsk Region, quartzites with inclusions of cinnabar are known at the Nikitovka deposit, and at the Borkut deposit they described diorite porphyrites with cinnabar. In Kyrgyzstan, at the Chonksoy deposit, list-wanites are enriched with cinnabar. In Kazakhstan, at the Khaidarakan deposit, calcareous-quartz breccia is enriched with cinnabar, and at the Chagan Uzun deposit – limestone with cinnabar. In Tadzhikistan, similar rocks of the Dzhizhikrut deposit are brecciated limestones and barytocalcite with cinnabar. In the Priasovje territorz cinnabar has been extracted before A.D. According Herodot, red paint was received from it by Greeks. The Scythian name of the paint – “cannabis” – was close to its Greek name cinnabar – kinnabaris. It’s possible to assume that cinnabar is a word of the Scythian origin…. In China, cinnabar is added into varnishes as a coloring pigment for painting on caskets and other souvenirs.” — Source: Cinnabar (Russian Minerological Society)
However, we might infer a Chinese origin for cinnabar use since its use is closely associated with lacquering techniques, and the Kyoto National Museum attributes the Japanese lacquerware culture as of Chinese origins, see Chinese Carved Lacquerware:
“the lacquer tree grows not only in Japan, but in Southeast Asia, China, Korea and other parts of Asia. The lacquer tree does not, however, grow in Europe or America. In the West, lacquerware was often called “japan,” showing that lacquerware-making is an Asian art.
The history and culture of Japan, however, are not nearly as old as those of China! From the very beginnings, when Japan was still called the Yamato Taikoku and was ruled by the Empress Himiko, Japan has looked up to China and imported Chinese culture. This also relates to lacquerware; the Japanese actually learned the art of making lacquerware from China…”
Cinnabar: Its brutal history and transformation Catherine’s Blog About Jewelry, Gemstones
Cinnabar (Russian Minerological Society)
Rutherford J. Gettens, Robert L. Feller and W. T. Chase, Vermilion and Cinnabar . Chase Studies in Conservation Vol. 17, No. 2 (May, 1972), pp. 45-69
For photos of cinnabar-use in fashion and craft objects of the Jomon era, see:
Chinese Carved Lacquerware(A Kyoto National Museum page)