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Carbon occurs extensively in all living organisms as proteins, fats, carbohydrates (sugars and starches), and nucleic acids.

Humans have been aware of carbon since the earliest of times. The black color of smoke is caused by unburned specks of carbon.

The smoke may have collected on the ceiling of their caves as soot.

When oil burns, carbon is released in the reaction, forming a sooty covering on the inside of the lamp. Lampblack was also often mixed with olive oil or balsam gum to make ink.

And ancient Egyptians sometimes used lampblack as eyeliner.

One of the most common forms of carbon is charcoal.

It occurs in more different forms than any other element in the periodic table.

The periodic table is a chart that shows how chemical elements are related to each other.

More than ten million compounds of carbon are known.No other element, except for hydrogen, occurs in even a fraction of that number of compounds.As an element, carbon occurs in a striking variety of forms.Coal, soot, and diamonds are all nearly pure forms of carbon.Carbon also occurs in a form, discovered only recently, known as fullerenes or buckyballs.Buckyball carbon holds the promise for opening a whole new field of chemistry (see accompanying sidebar).