Have you ever wondered where crystals and gemstones come from? It may surprise you, but the majority of crystals and minerals are actually rescued from mines. Very few crystals are actually mined specifically for their beauty. Rock and gem collecting is a very old human occupation, in fact its one of the worlds oldest occupations. As soon as human kind could, we fashioned tools and stones for adornment out of rocks.
Mining is an unavoidable fact of human existence, without mining we would cease to exist. Think about it, what do you own or use that in some way does not have the products of mining in it. All our tools, electronics, cars, fuels, houses all come from the materials mined from the earth. Even if the world became completely organic and as close to natural living as is practically possible we would still need to mine for minerals. All of the machinery and packaging used to make, ship and store everything has mined ores in it. Even recycling requires mined ingredients to enable recycling. Copper wire for power, plastic and metal pipes for water, sand is used to make glass, and even organically grown crops used crushed rock and limestone for fertiliser.
When mining occurs it is the ores that companies are after. The ores are what are processed into products. The crystals and minerals we collect are usually not what the mining companies are looking for. In fact the companies until recently would not waste any staff or time collecting crystals because they were only in the business of selling the ores. The crystals simply ended up being discarded or put through the crusher with the rock ore. The crystals were most often collected by employees of the mine or individuals who were interested in keeping these beautiful specimens. This led to the interest of crystal collecting and because of their popularity; some mines now allow the collecting (rescuing) of specimens whom they on sell to dealers and museums.
Topaz is the only gemstone mined specifically for its use as a jewel as it has no known industrial use. Diamonds are one of the most famous gemstones mined, but only a small few make it to jewellery grade, by far the majority end up as industrial Diamonds used for cutting. Malachite, Azurite, Chrysocolla and even Turquoise are mostly by products of copper mining. Fluorite is mined for Fluoride used mostly as industrial flux in metal welding. Quartz was originally mined for use in radars and early radio transmitters. Now of course it’s the base mineral of the computer chip industry. Mica was mined for use as insulators in boilers, ovens and electrical devices. Hematite contains about 60% iron and is an ore used to manufacture steel. High quality Rubies are used as surgical lasers, the list goes on…
Many of the beautiful gemstones we like so much are not from mines at all. If you have ever been to Birdlings flat or walked up any of Canterbuy’s braided rivers you will have seen plenty of colourful Agates, Jaspers and Rhyolites. These are polished or carved into pendants simply from surface collecting from our rivers and beaches. The world has many such areas that locals collect swap and sell their collectable stones all around the world. Often rocks are collected from road cuts, tunnels or farm paddocks. Septarians, Petrified wood, Agates, Jaspers, Obsidians, and many other rocks often occur in ploughed paddocks, locals who know the farmer are welcome and in most cases appreciated for helping to clean up the ploughed field of rocks that are otherwise seen as a nuisance to the land user.
Sometimes crystals are discovered accidentally. In India they were digging a railway tunnel through Basalt rock when they came across beautiful Apophyllites and many verities of Zeolites. The Basalt is now quarried for use as road chips and the Apohyllites are rescued from the quarry. Our own Lyttleton tunnel unearthed beautiful dogtooth Calcites and shimmery Chabazites.
What is this fascination we have with rocks and crystals. If we look back, we find that our human history has been recorded in stone, the Egyptian pyramids, the stone henge, the Great Wall of China to name a few. The great mysteries like the crystal skulls and the face on mars, all stone! Gaia, the mother planet we live our lives on, a great stone sphere. We look back and say we came from the Stone Age, cave men. But the true Stone Age is here and now, we have just learnt to take those stones and instead of fashioning simple stone axes, we have turned stone into machines, electronics and fancy tools, but in the final analysis we are still living our lives entirely reliant on stone!