Carbon as an element was discovered by the first person to handle charcoal from fire.Thus, together with sulfur, iron, tin, lead, copper, mercury, silver, and gold, carbon was one of the small group of elements well known in the ancient world.However, carbon compounds (i.e., carbonates of magnesium and calcium) form common minerals (e.g., magnesite, dolomite, marble, or limestone).Coral and the shells of oysters and clams are primarily calcium carbonate.Modern carbon chemistry dates from the development of coals, petroleum, and natural gas as fuels and from the elucidation of synthetic organic chemistry, both substantially developed since the 1800s.buckerminsterfullerenes, or “buckyballs,” and cylindrical fullerenes are called nanotubes.
A natural sequence of chemical reactions called the carbon cycle—involving conversion of atmospheric carbon dioxide to carbohydrates by photosynthesis in plants, the consumption of these carbohydrates by animals and oxidation of them through metabolism to produce carbon dioxide and other products, and the return of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere—is one of the most important of all biological processes.
Diamond and graphite occur naturally on Earth, and they also can be produced synthetically; they are chemically inert but do combine with oxygen at high temperatures, just as amorphous carbon does.
Fullerene was serendipitously discovered in 1985 as a synthetic product in the course of laboratory experiments to simulate the chemistry in the atmosphere of giant stars.
Carbon is the cosmic product of the “burning” of helium, in which three helium nuclei, atomic number 4, fuse to produce a carbon nucleus, atomic number 12.
In the crust of Earth, elemental carbon is a minor component.
Bone black, or animal charcoal, can adsorb gases and colouring matter from many other materials.