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Known since the ancient times
I'm sort of a chameleon
Sometimes I am ugly
And sometimes worth a million

This value, however, is nothing compared
To what I can do if not handled with care
You use me to leave a mark on a tree
Or to free life of impurity

My family is huge, I can't say I'm lonely
But only the lucky see the pretty side of me.

Note:

Two lines in the riddle are extremely vague, so that it wouldn't be too easy. :)

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  • $\begingroup$ You said it was easy. Now You says it's hard! :P $\endgroup$ – You May 7 '16 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @You That's some tricky phrasing right there. ;P $\endgroup$ – Addison Crump May 8 '16 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ Your clues made me think of Chamillionaire, mainly because of the presence of the words "chameleon" and "million", but also "free life of impurity" - You'll never catch him ridin' dirty. The rest doesn't really fit though. $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman May 8 '16 at 15:01
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Is the answer

carbon

Known since the ancient times

carbon and its forms have been in use since ancient times

I'm sort of a chameleon
Sometimes I am ugly
And sometimes worth a million

carbon has many forms, including charcoal graphite etc which can be described ugly and diamond which is worth millions

This value, however, is nothing compared
To what I can do if not handled with care

might be a reference to the dangerous nature of explosives or fuels containing carbon compounds

You use me to leave a mark on a tree
Or to free life of impurity
My family is huge, I can't say I'm lonely
But only the lucky see the pretty side of me.

One could use a piece of charcoal to mark a tree, charcoal is used to purify water, carbon has many forms so has a huge family, but only the lucky ones see the diamond.

OP Commentary

"...leave a mark on a tree" was a reference to writing i.e. leaving a mark on paper.
"...free life of impurity" was a reference to graphene, which is used to filter and purify water.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sorry about the crappy formatting, I'm using a phone. $\endgroup$ – Abhishek May 7 '16 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ Charcoal is literally made out of trees. ;P $\endgroup$ – Addison Crump May 7 '16 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Abhishek Yes! If you don't mind, I'll just edit your answer to explain some little details I had in mind. :) $\endgroup$ – Eutherpy May 7 '16 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Eutherpy please go ahead $\endgroup$ – Abhishek May 7 '16 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ it's forms = it is forms $\endgroup$ – David Conrad May 8 '16 at 2:52
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The answer is

Metal

Known since the ancient times

People have been using metals since ancient times.

I'm sort of a chameleon

Metals of different sorts and colors are available (A chameleon can change its colors).

Sometimes I am ugly

Raw metal, or rusted iron is ugly

And sometimes worth a million

Gold, platinum etc are worth millions.

This value, however, is nothing compared To what I can do if not handled with care

Metal machinery, if mishandled, can cause destruction of life and property.

You use me to leave a mark on a tree

An axe can be used to leave a mark on a tree.

Or to free life of impurity

Surgical instruments are made of metals, which can free someone's life of impurity (disease, germ)

My family is huge, I can't say I'm lonely

There are different types of metals.

But only the lucky see the pretty side of me.

Not sure about this. Probably it means that only the rich are able to afford pretty metals like gold and silver.

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  • $\begingroup$ Close, but not it :) $\endgroup$ – Eutherpy May 7 '16 at 13:09
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Perhaps you are:

Oil

Known since the ancient times

Oil was first used in ~4000 BC.

I'm sort of a chameleon

Chameleon has a second definition as "somebody who changes opinion or behavior according to the situation" - oil can be used in many ways.

Sometimes I am ugly

Crude oil

And sometimes worth a million

Refined petroleum

This value, however, is nothing compared

To what I can do if not handled with care

"it could be the fact that oil is flammable and can explode" – Peanut

You use me to leave a mark on a tree

Pollution

Or to free life of impurity

Many medicines are based on oil, and essential oils are, well, necessary.

My family is huge, I can't say I'm lonely

Reference to the dinosaurs, perhaps? Not sure on this one. "...there are many kinds of oils like coconut oil, mustard oil, olive oil, petrol etc." - manshu

But only the lucky see the pretty side of me.

Striking oil is rare and can be costly to refine - gotta have a lot of luck.

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  • $\begingroup$ As for "My family is huge, I can't say I'm lonely", the reasoning could be that there are many kinds of oils like coconut oil, mustard oil, olive oil, petrol etc. $\endgroup$ – manshu May 7 '16 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ @manshu You're totally right - thanks! I'll add that (and attrib) in there. $\endgroup$ – Addison Crump May 7 '16 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, no. But close :) $\endgroup$ – Eutherpy May 7 '16 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ For "This value, however, is nothing compared To what I can do if not handled with care", it could be the fact that oil is flammable and can explode $\endgroup$ – haykam May 9 '16 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Peanut Added and attributed. :D $\endgroup$ – Addison Crump May 9 '16 at 19:55
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Similar to Hackerdashi's answer, you are probably

a knife/blade.

Known since the ancient times

Knives/blades are very old tools.

I'm sort of a chameleon

Blades take on different shapes depending on their intended use.

Sometimes I am ugly

Open for interpretation, but ugly could be either the shape of the blade being unpleasant, or the use of a blade to do bad things.

And sometimes worth a million

Some blades are very valuable and expensive, such as the kukri.

This value, however, is nothing compared to what I can do if not handled with care

Knives are dangerous. Need I say more?

You use me to leave a mark on a tree

Well, that's one way to use a blade...

Or to free life of impurity

...and that's another way.

My family is huge, I can't say I'm lonely

As mentioned earlier, there are lots of different kinds of blades.

But only the lucky see the pretty side of me.

Better to be on the right end of the blade. Although, perhaps Eutherpy is being a bit dark for suggesting that using a blade for such things as "freeing life of impurity" is pretty. :P

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    $\begingroup$ Haha, wrong, although the answer is dark indeed. :P $\endgroup$ – Eutherpy May 7 '16 at 13:51
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It's people, right?

Known since the ancient times

People were known since then!

I'm sort of a chameleon

This one is kind of a reach.

Sometimes I am ugly

There are ugly people. God, are there ugly people.

And sometimes worth a million

Ophra is a people.

This value, however, is nothing compared To what I can do if not handled with care

You can raise them to be more than Ophra!

You use me to leave a mark on a tree

Family tree.

Or to free life of impurity

Babies are considered pure, I think.

My family is huge, I can't say I'm lonely

There's a lot of people. At least a million.

But only the lucky see the pretty side of me.

A lot of them are assholes.

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  • $\begingroup$ Who is "Ophra"? $\endgroup$ – David Conrad May 8 '16 at 2:53
0
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Going more abstract:

Industry

Known since the ancient times

People have been industrializing forever.

I'm sort of a chameleon

There are many forms of industry.

Sometimes I am ugly

Gilded age, oppression of lower class by upper class.

And sometimes worth a million

Literally a million - industry makes trillions.

This value, however, is nothing compared

To what I can do if not handled with care

Once again, unregulated industry can have bad side-effects.

You use me to leave a mark on a tree

Interpreting "tree" as family tree: the Morgan family, for example. Family trees were forever placed in the state of wealth.

Or to free life of impurity

Medical industries save thousands of lives.

My family is huge, I can't say I'm lonely

Once again, industry is everywhere.

But only the lucky see the pretty side of me.

The 1% claim: only the lucky, the extremely rich get the "pretty side" of industry.

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0
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I think it's

elements, if that's not too broad.

Known since the ancient times

They've always existed, and in ancient times people believed in the four elements earth, fire, wind and water.

I'm sort of a chameleon

There are many elements

Sometimes I am ugly

They can basically take any form, so they can be ugly too.

And sometimes worth a million

Gold, platina, etc.

This value, however, is nothing compared To what I can do if not handled with care

Radioactive elements can be dangerous, see Marie Curie

You use me to leave a mark on a tree

You can make a knife or axe out of iron, for example

Or to free life of impurity

Elements can make filters or catalysts

My family is huge, I can't say I'm lonely

100+ elements

But only the lucky see the pretty side of me.

I guess maybe chemists, but I don't know why they would be lucky

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0
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The answer is

Minerals

Known since the ancient times

Have existed for billions of years

I'm sort of a chameleon

Can blend around its surroundings

Sometimes I am ugly

Not all are appealing to the eye

And sometimes worth a million

Gems are minerals

This value, however, is nothing compared

To what I can do if not handled with care

There exist a large number of fatal minerals

You use me to leave a mark on a tree

can easily be done using any cheap mineral laying around

Or to free life of impurity

My family is huge, I can't say I'm lonely

there are over five thousand kinds of minerals

But only the lucky see the pretty side of me.

not everyone has the privilege to see one in front of them

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0
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If one were to think more abstractly,

perhaps language?

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Puzzling! Could you explain why you think this? Answers without explanation are usually deleted. $\endgroup$ – Deusovi May 7 '16 at 17:47

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