The salt on your table and the diamond in your ring: what do they have in common? They’re both minerals. Whether common and cheap, or rare and expensive, minerals have been a part of human culture from our earliest beginnings. Collectors have valued Egyptian lapis jewelry, Maya malachite masks, and Chinese jade pendants for generations.
We’ve always been attracted to the exceptional things that nature creates. That’s why they end up in museums like the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“All art is an imitation of nature.”The Roman philosopher Seneca
And with its kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, and textures, there is no better place to prove this point than the Hillman’s extraordinary collection of minerals and gemstones. A highlight of the collection features fantastic cubes of hot pink rhodochrosite on a bed of snow white quartz.
At last count there were roughly 5,000 different minerals – plus the two new ones recently discovered in a massive meteorite which crashed to earth in Somalia in 2020. There are a few common minerals that are easily recognized, but the incredible variety can make identification difficult. However, you don’t have to be a mineralogist to appreciate this remarkable demonstration of nature’s power to Wow! us.
And given the sheer number of minerals, no discussion would be complete without touching on how the sometimes wacky names are picked. The International Mineralogical Society is the organization that rides herd on new mineral names, and a customary convention is to name minerals after where they were found or by whom. For example, the mineral andesine is named after the Andes Mountains where it was discovered, and adamite is named after Gilbert Adam, the discoverer. But sometimes the geeks in the lab let their creative juices flow, and we end up with minerals like eurekadumpite, moolooite, goosecreekite, and the bordering-on-rude dickite. Nerds abide I guess.
I’m straying a bit geographically from Pittsburgh, but I couldn’t leave this post without including this astonishing photo. These are crystals of the mineral gypsum from the Cueva de los Cristales in Chihuahua, Mexico. For scale, check out the spelunker in the lower right corner – and this is not photoshopped!
Minerals give Mother Nature a chance to strut her stuff. And if you want to see this fancy dance stop by the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems if you happen through Pittsburgh.
James & Terri
P.S. For those who want to dig a bit deeper into the science, the National Park Service is a good place to start.
Photo Credits: 1. Jason D