However, they continued antiquity's belief in four elements and guarded their work in secrecy including cyphers and cryptic symbolism.
The latter interests historians of esotericism, psychologists, and some philosophers and spiritualists.
The subject has also made an ongoing impact on literature and the arts.
In Europe, following the 12th-century Renaissance produced by the translation of Arabic works on science and the Recovery of Aristotle, alchemists played a significant role in early modern science (particularly chemistry and medicine).
Islamic and European alchemists developed a structure of basic laboratory techniques, theory, terminology, and experimental method, some of which are still in use today.
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Common aims were chrysopoeia, the transmutation of "base metals" (e.g., lead) into "noble" ones (particularly gold); the creation of an elixir of immortality; the creation of panaceas able to cure any disease; and the development of an alkahest, a universal solvent.
In Europe, the creation of a philosopher's stone was variously connected with all of these projects.
In English, the term is often limited to descriptions of European alchemy, but similar practices existed in the Far East, the Indian subcontinent, and the Muslim world.
They wrote in Greek and lived in Egypt under Roman rule.
Mythology – Zosimos of Panopolis asserted that alchemy dated back to Pharaonic Egypt where it was the domain of the priestly class, though there is little to no evidence for his assertion.
It is still an open question whether these three strands share a common origin, or to what extent they influenced each other.