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Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 02.22.2017 | Filed under: Latest, Mineral Shows | Comments (0)

 

Always hard to contain my enthusiasm about Tucson… The world’s largest annual gathering of mineral people and mineral specimens from around the globe never disappoints – it is a great time full of great minerals.

Santa Rita The foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains, just south of Tucson.

OK, I admit it’s also a sunny and warm break from Canadian winter. While many others in North America seem to be having a bit lighter winter than usual, we’ve had lots of snow this year in the Bancroft area. It began in November and now the snow is high. A February 2017 snowbank by our house:

SnowbankBancroft, winter 2016-17. Snowbanks about 8-9ft tall.
(For scale, Emery is a 90 lb Lab. He never misses a chance to be out in the snow.)

Tucson’s surroundings are obviously a real contrast to home, both as to weather and scenery.

SaguaroSanta Rita Mountains and a saguaro.

During the show, there is so much to see and do with the minerals and mineral friends that, in the limited time of a Tucson trip, there is precious little chance for exploring the surroundings. However, every step out in the area is worth it!

YuccaA walk in the foothills

As every year, the mineral events around Tucson are spread over many different show venues, over a few weeks. From one year to the next, dealers come and go, and move about. New shows pop up, older shows wane and sometimes disappear altogether, and then some rise again from the ashes. So, always something new and interesting to discover out there in the urban field-collecting jungle.

I thought maybe I’d start with my favourite warnings and signs from around the shows.

I didn’t take a photo of the one in my rental car, but it was a winner: every time I turned on the car,  a bright, bold electronic notice told me not to operate the car stereo while the car is operating, because it’s dangerous. (Thanks so much to the Mensa-candidate lawyer who came up with that one.)

At one show:

Washroom sign

Really???
(People do this?)

I quite liked this lawn sign:

No Lawn Signs

And at that same show, within about 40 ft of the one above:

Lawn Signs

Anyway… On to the minerals!

On the whole, there were some excellent finds, mostly of the small and isolated variety (rather than large-scale splashes of new discoveries). I’m going to start with Brazil, because over the past year, it has produced many fine specimens.

A small number of new wodginite crystals have been found. These are sharp and great for the species!

 Wodginite, Linopolis District, Divino das Laranjeiras, Minas Gerais, Brazil Wodginite, Linopolis district, near Divino das Larajeiras, Minas Gerais, Brazil – 2.5 cm

Wodginite, Linopolis District, Divino das Laranjeiras, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Wodginite, Linopolis district, near Divino das Larajeiras, Minas Gerais, Brazil – 2.6 cm

Wodginite, Linopolis District, Divino das Laranjeiras, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Wodginite, Linopolis district, near Divino das Larajeiras, Minas Gerais, Brazil – 3.2 cm

If you’d like to see more of these, I’ve posted them in the Wodginite Update (click here).

The workings at Novo Horizonte have produced more excellent hematite-rutile specimens. Most of these are not in very good condition, but a few are really super.

Rutile on Hematite, Novo Horizonte, Bahia, Brazil

Rutile on Hematite, Novo Horizonte, Bahia, Brazil – 4.8 cm

Novo Horizonte has also been the subject of some additional mineral analysis, with very interesting results over the past year. One of these is a new mineral, published in 2016. The work on this mineral began with our late friend, Luiz Menezes – one of the most observant and careful people in mineral world, who never missed something new, never assumed an identification, and whose work contributed to the description of several new minerals. The work on this material was continued by a group of mineralogists, and in June 2016, the new mineral, parisite-(La), was officially regognized by the IMA. (The full group: Luiz A.D. Menezes Filho, Mario L.S.C. Chaves, Nikita V. Chukanov, Daniel Atencio, Ricardo Scholz, Igor Pekov, Geraldo Magela da Costa, Shaunna M. Morrison, Marcelo Andrade, Erico Freitas, Robert T. Downs and Dmitriy I. Belakovskiy.)

I am including a photograph of one of the best specimens – there are not many in existence. This one was available from Luisa at Luiz Menezes Minerals.

Parisite La
Parisite-(La), Novo Horizonte, Bahia, Brazil – approx. 7 cm

Just before leaving Novo Horizonte, I have a small final update. In November 2015, I had a few specimens from this locality on the website, sold to me under the label “synchysite”, and so-labeled on the website. Subsequent analysis by Don Doell has confirmed more about their identity. Having conducted semi-quantitative EDS at SGS Labs, Don found that these are in fact phosphate mineralization, and they are likely a combination of rhabdophane-(La), rhabdophane-(Ce), possibly including monazite-(Ce). They appear to be pseudomorphs after a REE carbonate, probably in the parisite group, given that this new parisite-(La) has been found at Novo Horizonte in crystals with a similar aspect and appearance, at a similar time. They could also be after bastnasite-(La), which has been described from the locality. For now, I’m labelling them rhabdophane, pseudomorph after parisite, with the proviso that the above is the technically closest identification information to date. Thanks very much to Don for this analysis! Very cool for rhabdophane. (If you’d like to see what these looked like, they are here.) Mine are all sold, but Carlos Menezes had a few thumbnail-sized specimens of this fascinating material available in Tucson.

Also from Brazil, there has been one I think will be underrated and missed by many collectors. From Mantena, Minas Gerais, there has been a find of beautiful muscovite crystals. Yes of course the mica group minerals are very common minerals, and one might be jaded and tempted to overlook them on that basis. However, it can be a challenge to acquire a genuinely good muscovite specimen. These muscovite crystals from Mantena have nice colour, giving depth and presence. I picked out the finest few I could find and they will be online in a coming update.

Muscovite, Mantena, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Muscovite on albite, Mantena, Minas Gerais, Brazil – 7.3 cm

I have always loved the blue fluorapatites from Ipira, but, although I always look for them, I am almost always disappointed. This is not because there aren’t any – it’s because very few of them are sharp and collection-worthy. The deposits mostly contain corroded-looking crystals with poor definition, and most crystals are broken crystal segments. This past year, Daniel Foscarini Almeida conducted significant mining operations in a zone that contained small, sharp crystals. Almost all had small chipping, but I went through hundreds and these best ones are extremely good. The colour with backlighting is hard to believe.

Fluorapatite, Ipirá, Bahia, Brazil

 Fluorapatite, Ipirá, Bahia, Brazil – 3.2 cm

And finally from Brazil (for now), Minas Gerais yielded some very fine phantom quartz crystals this year, from the deposits at Presidente Kubitschek. As always with Brazilian quartz, it can be very hard to find specimens in excellent condition, but some of these are just great.

Quartz with phantoms, Presidente Kubitschek, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Quartz with phantoms, Presidente Kubitschek, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Crystal 2.0 cm wide

Moving on from Brazil to the African continent next, still on the quartz theme, there was a pocket of spectacular quartz with red phantoms from Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa. Red quartz has been produced from this locality for many years, however, long-time South African dealer Clive Queit told me he has never seen any he liked as much as these, because these have such distinct red phantoms enclosed in sharp, clear quartz crystals – in his view they are the best. The crystals themselves are relatively small, and my favourite specimens were the ones that had good proportions (of crystal size to the piece), so the ones I consider the best are not large specimens. They are superb.

Red Phantom Quartz, Orange River, Cape Province, South Africa

Red Phantom Quartz, Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa – 5.0 cm

Red Phantom Quartz, Orange River, Cape Province, South Africa

Red Phantom Quartz, Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa – 4.0 cm

Red Phantom Quartz, Orange River, Cape Province, South Africa

Red Phantom Quartz, Orange River, Northern Cape Province, South Africa – 6.1 cm

Further north in Africa, there’s something a bit different and new from Arrondissement Diako, in Mali. We’ve seen thousands of loose single garnet crystals from here over the years, and occasionally we’ve been lucky enough to see matrix specimens. A new find, at Diabe Sira, has produced some very attractive specimens with sharp, lustrous grossular crystals on matrix. As is the case with all localities, and particularly much of the Mali material (of the various minerals), so much is damaged – the devil is in finding fine, collection-quality specimens. I worked through a lot of this material and I found a few – they are really nice!

Grossular, Diabe Sira, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali

Grossular, Diabe Sira, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali – 9.7 cm

Further north still, I think we’ve all become a bit spoiled by the constant flow of excellent mineral specimens from Morocco in recent years. So it felt like a bit of a disappointment that there wasn’t a spectacular new find, and that some of the material we’ve seen in recent times is drying up. As I mentioned in my Ste. Marie post last summer, the Sidi Lahcen barites are no more – I love those specimens, and good ones are now already hard to find (and in some cases very expensive). Speaking of production that seems to have dried up, I was also surprised that there were hardly even any signs of the Mamsa aragonites (the ones posted here last fall).  I had expected to see some of the lesser material at very least.

However, from Morocco there were some beautiful erythrites from the Bou Azzer district.

Erythrite, Bou Azzer, Tazenakht, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco

Erythrite, Bou Azzer, Tazenakht, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco – 1.3 cm crystal

China seems to have produced less in the way of truly new material. There are some new bluish-purple quartz specimens, highly priced and different dealers were giving different locality names – we’ll see what the future holds for these. From Huanggang, there were a few of the flat, discoidal calcites that made their debut last fall in Denver – here is a sweet small one.

Calcite, Huanggang Mines, Hexigten Banner, Ulanhad, Inner Mongolia A.R., China

Calcite, Huanggang Mines, Hexigten Banner, Ulanhad, Inner Mongolia A.R., China – 3.3 cm

From Russia, the mines at Dal’negorsk continue to operate and there was a new pocket of sharp datolite crystals found at the Bor Pit. These crystals are a beautiful light green and they are highly lustrous.

Datolite, Bor Pit, Dal'negorsk, Primorskiy Kray, Russia

 Datolite, Bor Pit, Dal’negorsk, Primorskiy Kray, Russia – 5.0 cm

As you’ll know if you’ve read my posts from the past, I love Peru and Peruvian mineral specimens. Over the years, the large polymetallic mines have produced a variety of excellent specimens, and several workings undertaken purely for mineral specimen mining have provided spectacular pieces. However, this was really not a great year for new Peruvian specimens. Ucchucchacua has now produced no new specimen material in three years, and a new piece of unfortunate news from Peru is that the Lily Mine has ceased operations. Lily was operated for copper and is known to collectors for a few minerals – chrysocolla, and most notably some of the best atacamite and clinoatacamite specimens that have been found anywhere. I obtained only a few more of these, as good specimens are already scarce, and I’m told any future production is questionable.

 Clinoatacamite, Lily Mine, Pisco Umay, Ica Dept., Peru
Clinoatacamite, Lily Mine, Pisco Umay, Ica Dept., Peru
Superb crystal group, 5 mm

In much better news, a Peruvian collection and the workings at Mundo Nuevo have provided some excellent specimens.

Pyrite and Lautite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, Sanchez Carrion Province, La Libertad Dept., Peru

Pyrite and Lautite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, La Libertad Dept., Peru – 2.9 cm

Back to North America, I was lucky to pick up a couple of nice little wulfenite specimens from the Red Cloud Mine, including this one – it’s not big, but this thing is a red window pane.

Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, Silver District, Trigo Mts., La Paz Co., Arizona

 Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, Trigo Mountains, Arizona – 2.3 cm
(Crystal 1.0 cm across, 0.8 cm on edge)

Over the coming weeks, many of these finds – and more new material – will be posted on the website, so stay tuned!

Palm

 

In the meantime, as nice as it is to have had a break, it’s so great to be home. (You can take the Canadian out of the winter but you can’t take the winter out of the Canadian – at least not this Canadian.) It’s beautiful out here in the winter woods in February, as always!

Bancroft, Ontario, Canada

Yes, the snow piles are high.

Snow Window

Another 9 ft tall snowpile. Granted, it reduces the view for a while.
And we probably shouldn’t expect this part of the garden to emerge until late May.

This year’s snow-management issues aside, it’s gorgeous and peaceful, with lots of active local residents in our woods…

 Blue Jay, Bancroft, Ontario, Canada

Blue Jay, near Bancroft, Ontario

And there’s this one guy who loves winter more than any being I’ve known:

Snow Angel

Every day from the first snows until the last snow patches are too small in spring, Emery does snow angels.

Well, that’s it, until the Rochester 2017 report.

If you haven’t yet seen them, this year’s Rochester Mineralogical Symposium program and registration materials are online here. Hope to see you there!

Meanwhile, of course these specimens will be coming online soon!

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 01.14.2017 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

I’ve posted some beautiful new specimens in this Morocco Update (click here).  The pieces include azurite from Kerrochen and Bou Beker, vanadinite from Taouz, pyrite-coated fluorite from El Hammam, purple fluorite from Tounfit, twinned cerussite from Mibladen and quartz on siderite from Gourrama.

Azurite, Kerrouchen, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Azurite, Kerrouchen, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Crystal 2.5 cm

Azurite, Kerrouchen, Khenifra Province, Morocco

Azurite, Kerrouchen, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Crystal 3.1 cm

Azurite, Bou Beker, Touissit-Bou Beker District, Jerada Province, Morocco

Azurite, Bou Beker, Touissit – Bou Beker District, Jerada Province, Morocco – 9.7 cm

Azurite with Malachite, Bou Beker, Touissit - Bou Beker District, Jerada Province, Morocco

Azurite with Malachite, Bou Beker, Touissit – Bou Beker District, Jerada Province, Morocco – 6.3 cm

Vanadinite, Taouz, Er Rachidia Province, Morocco

Vanadinite, Taouz, Er Rachidia Province, Morocco – 5.2 cm

Fluorite coated with Pyrite, El Hammam Mine, Meknes, Meknes-Tafilalet Region, Morocco

Fluorite coated with Pyrite, El Hammam Mine, Meknes, Meknes-Tafilalet Region, Morocco – 6.0 cm

Fluorite coated with Pyrite, El Hammam Mine, Meknes, Meknes-Tafilalet Region, Morocco

Fluorite coated with Pyrite, El Hammam Mine, Meknes, Meknes-Tafilalet Region, Morocco – 4.2 cm

Cerussite with Barite, Les Dalles Mine, Mibladen Mining District, Midelt, Khenifra Province, Morocco

Cerussite with Barite, Les Dalles Mine, Mibladen Mining District, Midelt, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Field of view 2.0 cm

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Field of view 4.0 cm

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Field of view 3.5 cm

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Field of view 2.0 cm

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco

Fluorite, Tounfit, Boumia, Khenifra Province, Morocco
Field of view 3.0 cm

Quartz, Siderite, Gourrama, Er Rachidia, Morocco

Quartz, Siderite, Gourrama, Er Rachidia, Morocco
Crystal 3.2 cm

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 09.02.2016 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

 

I’ve added some great new French specimens in this France Update (click here).

Several were recently collected by French collector Grégoire de Bodinat at the Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France. The Mésage Mine was originally explored in the early-nineteenth century for iron, and the underground workings have been abandoned since the late-nineteenth century. Grégoire had a nice selection of high quality specimens from this classic region – siderite with quartz, ankerite crystals, and sharp bournonite crystals with white barite.

This update also includes a fine bournonite from Saint-Laurent-le-Minier, and a water-clear (literally!) calcite crystal perched on smaller calcite crystals from Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Aquitaine.

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

 Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France – 6.6 cm

Pyrite and Quartz on Siderite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

 Pyrite and Quartz on Siderite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Siderite with Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Siderite with Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France – 4.9 cm

Bournonite, Barite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Bournonite, Barite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite, Pyrite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite, Pyrite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France – 6.4 cm

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Bournonite, Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-Le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Bournonite, Les Malines District, Saint-Laurent-Le-Minier, Gard, Languedoc-Roussillon, France – 4.7 cm

Calcite, Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Aquitaine, France

Calcite, Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Aquitaine, France

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 09.02.2016 | Filed under: Latest, Mineral Shows | Comments (0)

 

In a valley in the Vosges region of France, the quiet town of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines transforms into a bustling mineral and gem extravaganza every June. This is the most beautiful setting for any of the world’s major annual mineral shows, and attending is a great experience.

Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines 2016 mineral show

Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, 2016

Although there was much stormy and unsettled weather across France and Germany this year, the towns of this area escaped the more significant flooding damage that affected so many communities elsewhere. The Rhine was certainly swollen with much more water than usual – and thunderstorms left debris on the roads – but for the most part, the rains just meant lots of green across the countryside.

Orschwiller, France

Vineyards, near Orschwiller. Chateau Haut Koenigsbourg is perched above, in the Vosges mountains.

I love the region’s idyllic small towns – quiet, with the calls of blackbirds overhead.

Saint Hippolyte, France

Saint Hippolyte, Haut-Rhin, France

Saint Hippolyte, France

Beautiful Alsace architecture bathed in a warm evening light

In the town of Ste. Marie itself, one of my favourite things about its setting is that the valley is quite steep, and so the forests and pastures form a backdrop for many of the views from down in the middle of the town.

Saint-Marie-aux-Mines, France

Saint-Marie-aux-Mines, Val D’Argent, France

The river and waterways of the town are channeled behind the houses and other buildings – and normally at this time of year there isn’t much water. This year, there was lots!

Ste. Marie-aux-Mines, France

Bubbling water channel running through Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines

One thing that really stood out this year was the temperature – it was HOT! Humid too. Lots of sun and haze… and you also had to watch for the late-afternoon thunderstorms.

Storm3

Signs of impending rain at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines 2016

So I did see this one coming…

Storm1

Thunderstorm coming from up the Val D’Argent

…and I thought I had time to make it back to the car, but… ended up sheltering part way there, when the skies opened up!

Storm2

Rainwater streaming from waterspouts directly into the water channel that runs behind the houses – efficient!

The storms were short and did not make life uncomfortable for long – they were actually refreshing. In fact, there was something that made things far more uncomfortable at the show…

Halogen

300W halogen lights on stands. It is hard to find a hotter mainstream light source (!) – these were all over the indoor dealer displays.
I love the colour quality of halogen lights, but these things are stoves on sticks.

Sainte-Marie-aux_Mines, France

One of the tent-lined streets at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines

For me the most exciting new find at Ste. Marie was actually not on public display. Tomasz Praszkier brought out the top new Moroccan aragonite specimens and they are truly superb! Aragonite is not a rare mineral, of course, and some aragonite localities are rather abundant producers, so, for example, we typically see lots of aragonite available from Tazouta, Morocco, and also from Minglanilla, Spain. (Even in those instances, truly fine specimens are not the rule, as the vast majority are damaged). These specimens exhibit twinning, with pseudo-hexagonal cyclic twins of aragonite. However, these new specimens from Mamsa are classic, elongated, tapered orthorhombic crystals in groups of radiating spikes and make for dramatic specimens.  Even though aragonite itself is uncommon, it is very hard to acquire high-quality specimens of this most classic habit.

In this case, Tomasz went through hundreds of flats (yes flats (!)) of material in Morocco, and the specimens I acquired from him are all in the top 20 to date (top 20 pieces, not flats!). Almost everything he saw was badly damaged. This bulk of lower quality material will undoubtedly begin to show up at future mineral shows, but – interesting – it was almost entirely absent among the Moroccan dealers in Ste. Marie.

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco – 7.5 cm

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco
Field of view 6 cm

It is notable that the aragonite at this locality does also occur in other habits, including as elongated pseudo-hexagonal twins, so we may see those in future. The locality itself is well-exposed in a barren area north of Sidi Ayed. The difficulty is that the material closer to the surface has been extracted, and this was the matrix that was easier to collect – as they’ve gone deeper, the matrix has been tougher, and the material from these deeper excavations has been damaged. Most collecting there has been by local collectors who are more often digging agates, and of course collecting these delicate aragonite sprays required different techniques and care – hence the high level of damage with most of this material.

Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco

 Aragonite, Mamsa, nr. Sidi Ayed, Boulemane Province, Fes-Meknes Region, Morocco – 6.9 cm

As usual, there were many Moroccan dealers with the usual – most had very typical material, in moderate condition. One interesting new find was some purple fluorite, from very narrow seams at a locality Elyachi, near Tatouine.

TatouineFluorite

 

Fluorite, Elyachi, nr. Tatouine, Meknes-Tafilalet, Morocco – 8.2 cm

One last note from Morocco is that the production of the beautiful blue barites from Sidi Lahcen (these ones) is reportedly finished. Although we always have to be skeptical when we are told that a locality is exhausted, the marketplace confirmed it in Ste. Marie this year, with almost no truly high-quality specimens available.

Speaking of high-quality specimens one cannot track down… I had hoped to bring back a few more of the bright yellow stilbite ball specimens from Mali (if you aren’t familiar with them, some are here). Although there were some at the show, they were all too damaged for our collections – I’m not sure that any were new. I suspect that most were the low-quality pieces from the original collecting of this material. I continue to keep an eye out for them, as they are some of the nicest yellow stilbite specimens I’ve ever seen, and they look so great in the cabinet. We’ll see what the future brings. In the meantime, I was able to pick up some excellent prehnite/epidote specimens from Mali, along with a sharp, lustrous vesuvianite.

Prehnite Mali

 Prehnite, Arrondissement Diako, Cercle de Bafoulabé, Kayes Region, Mali – 4.3 cm

New from France, French collector Grégoire de Bodinat recently collected some beautiful specimens at the Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France. The Mésage Mine was originally explored in the early-nineteenth century for iron, and the underground workings have been abandoned since the late-nineteenth century. Grégoire had a nice selection of high quality specimens from this classic region – siderite with quartz, ankerite crystals, and sharp bournonite crystals with white barite.

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Ankerite and Pyrite on Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France – 6.6 cm

Pyrite and Quartz on Siderite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Pyrite and Quartz on Siderite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Siderite with Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Siderite with Quartz, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France – 4.9 cm

Bournonite, Barite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

Bournonite, Barite, Mésage Mine, Saint-Pierre-de-Mésage, Isère, France

The Mésage Mine specimens are on the website here.

Finally, another great new find is from the Rudna Mine, Lubin District, Lower Silesia, Poland. This is of gypsum, var. selenite, with inclusions of herbertsmithite (a rare copper chloride mineral), making the specimens a vibrant green colour. These are gorgeous cabinet specimens! There were not many of these, and only a handful were top quality – I acquired all of the top quality ones.

Gypsum, var. Selenite, Herbertsmithite, Rudna Mine, Lubin District, Lower Silesia, Poland

Gypsum, var. Selenite, with inclusions of Herbertsmithite, Rudna Mine, Lubin District, Lower Silesia, Poland
Crystals up to approximately 3 cm

Displays

The Saint-Marie-aux-Mines show has hosted super displays in recent years.

This year, the main theme was Minerals and Wines (“Origines Pierres et Vins”), with some cases dedicated to matching mineral colours and wine colours, and others featuring the wines and minerals of a particular region.

DisplayRioja
Rioja, Spain – home of great wines and the incomparable pyrites of Navajun
Display by Pedro Conde

DisplayChessy4
The minerals and wines of the Chessy-les-Mines, Rhône

The Chessy case had some amazing specimens – here is a closer look at a few:

DisplayChessy1

Cuprite crystals, Chessy-les-Mines

DisplayChessy2

Azurite, Chessy-les-Mines – a gorgeous specimen,approximately 9 cm

From the Origines Pierres et Vins cases, I loved this Chanarcillo Prousite from the Collection of the Museum National d’Histoire Natural in Paris.

DisplayProustite

Proustite, Chanarcillo, Atacama, Chile – approximately 4 cm

The exposition also included a few cases dedicated to colours in minerals, explaining what causes the colours in certain minerals. These cases included many stunning specimens and here are a few.

DisplayAdamite

This adamite was an amazing hue – approximately 5 cm

This next one looks at a glance like it’s a classic from Amatitlan, Guererro, Mexico, but look at the label… (!)

DisplayAmethyst

Amethyst, Traversella, Piedmont, Italy, approximately 20 cm

This photo doesn’t do this crystal justice – an astounding, lustrous, old-time Red Cloud wulfenite, pristine…

DisplayWulfenite
Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, La Paz Co., Arizona – crystal approximatey 4 cm
Collection of the Musée Mineralogie de Mines, Paris Tech

And finally, while we’re on the subject of the causes of colour in minerals, and leaving the displays… I wandered into one dealer with new crystals of “Amegreen” (!). These are Uruguayan amethysts that have been subjected to radiation in a lab, to turn them green. Blech!! (At least the dealer was openly disclosing the origins of the colour.)

Amegreen

Quartz, originally var. amethyst, tortured and turned green in a lab using radiation – marketed as “Amegreen”
Artigas, Uruguay

 Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines is such a great show. I already can’t wait for next year, and hope to see you there!

St. Hippolyte, France

 Beautiful summer evening in Alsace

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 01.13.2016 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

 

I’ve added a group of diverse minerals in this Peru Update (click here). I have selected these out over various trips – each is a beautiful specimen for the mineral! This update includes a gorgeous rhodonite from Chiurucu, a brilliant alabandite, a super specimen of bournonite cogwheel twins on matrix, a specimen of scheelite coated with bright green stolzite,  fluorescent fluorapatite crystals and more.

Rhodonite, San Martin Mine, Chirucu, Huallanca, Bolognesi, Ancash Dept., Peru
 Rhodonite, San Martin Mine, Chirucu, Huallanca, Bolognesi, Ancash Dept., Peru – 6.0 cm

Stolzite on Scheelite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, Sanchez Carrion Province, La Libertad Dept., PeruStolzite on Scheelite, Mundo Nuevo Mine, Huamachuco, Sanchez Carrion Province, La Libertad Dept., Peru – 5.7 cm

Alabandite, Uchucchacua Mine, Oyon Province, Lima Dept., PeruAlabandite, Uchucchacua Mine, Oyon Province, Lima Dept., Peru
Field of View 3.3 cm

Bournonite, Julcani District, Angaraes Prov., Huancavelica Dept., PeruBournonite, Julcani District, Angaraes Prov., Huancavelica Dept., Peru
Field of View 3.5 cm

Fluorapatite on Pyrite, Huanzala Mine, Huallanca Dist., Dos De Mayo Prov., Huanuco Dept., PeruFluorapatite on Pyrite, Huanzala Mine, Huallanca Dist., Dos De Mayo Prov., Huanuco Dept., Peru – 7.9 cm

Fluorapatite on Pyrite, Huanzala Mine, Huallanca Dist., Dos De Mayo Prov., Huanuco Dept., PeruSame specimen as above, under fluorescent lighting

Gypsum var. Selenite on Halite, Salinas de Otuma, Paracas, Pisco, Pisco Province, Ica Dept., Peru Gypsum var. Selenite on Halite, Salinas de Otuma, Paracas, Pisco, Pisco Province, Ica Dept., Peru – 6.7 cm

Enargite, Quiruvilca Mine, Santiago de Chuco Province, La Libertad Department, Peru

Enargite, Quiruvilca Mine, Santiago de Chuco Province, La Libertad Department, Peru – crystal 2.4 cm

Chalcopyrite on Sphalerite, Palomo Mine, Castrovirreyna Province, Huancavelica Department, Peru Chalcopyrite on Sphalerite, Palomo Mine, Castrovirreyna Province, Huancavelica Department, Peru – 3.5 cm

Chalcopyrite on Sphalerite, Palomo Mine, Castrovirreyna Province, Huancavelica Department, Peru

Chalcopyrite on Sphalerite, Palomo Mine, Castrovirreyna Province, Huancavelica Department, Peru – 4.8 cm

Galena and Seligmannite, Palomo Mine, Castrovirreyna Province, Huancavelica Department, Peru

Galena and Seligmannite on Quartz, Palomo Mine, Castrovirreyna Province,
Huancavelica Department, Peru – 4.6 cm

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 09.23.2015 | Filed under: Latest, Recent Mineral Updates | Comments (0)

 

This Egypt Update (click here) features excellent new goethite pseudomorphs after marcasite crystals from the White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, Egypt.

This locality has been known for a number of years and pseudomorph specimens have come out once in a while. The pseudomorphs occur within the Cretaceous Khoman Chalk, from which the White Desert derives its name. Most crystals have typically been fairly indistinct, and to date sharp specimens have been uncommon. These new specimens are remarkable for their relatively sharp marcasite crystal forms in aesthetic crystal clusters.

Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  EgyptGoethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
5.7 cm

Over the years, these pseudomorphs have been variously labeled hematite, goethite and limonite (the latter no longer a valid mineral species name, but is a term still used in reference to unidentified iron hydroxides, so its use has not been incorrect). Recent work by Hannah Allen at Hamilton College has confirmed that the White Desert pseudomorphs are predominantly goethite. The small white grains lodged in among the crystal blades are barite, calcite and gypsum. (Allen, Hannah M., Pseudomorphed Mineral Aggregates of the Khoman Chalk, Western Desert, Egypt, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 46, No. 2, p.66 (2014)).

 Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  EgyptGoethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
4.7 cm

Although pseudomorphs after cubic and cuboctahedral pyrite crystals have also been found in the Khoman Chalk, the pseudomorphs after marcasite are more dramatic. These pseudomorphs are excellent specimens featuring beautiful marcasite crystal morphology, showing habits and forms exhibited by the crystallized marcasite specimens from the famous occurrences at Cap-Blanc-Nez, Pas-de-Calais, France.

 Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  EgyptGoethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
3.3 cm

Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  Egypt Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
6.5 cm

Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  EgyptGoethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
4.4 cm

Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  EgyptGoethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
4.2 cm

 Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  EgyptGoethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
4.9 cm

Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  EgyptGoethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
4.4 cm

Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  Egypt

Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
3.6 cm

Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  EgyptGoethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
3.6 cm

Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  EgyptGoethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
3.0 cm

Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  EgyptGoethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
5.4 cm

Goethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate,  EgyptGoethite pseudomorph after marcasite, White Desert, north of Farafra Oasis, New Valley Governorate, Egypt
5.0 cm

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 02.13.2014 | Filed under: Adventurers, Latest | Comments (0)


Into the Andes

The Road to Quiruvilca

You might think that a career working with mining companies and executives around the globe was surely a ticket into countless famous mineral localities everywhere. Oh, if only. (In fact, of the thousands of active mining and exploration projects worldwide, most are not famous mineral localities, nor do they produce anything approaching fine mineral specimens.)

So when my friend Adolfo Vera called me at home late one cold December night to talk – in his capacity as President of Southern Peaks Mining Company – about a new deal, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. (Ok let’s be honest, I didn’t actually try to contain it.)

Adolfo: “Ray, can we talk about negotiating the purchase of a mine in Peru? You may never have heard of it – it’s called the Quiruvilca Mine.”

Ray:  “Umm… I’ve more than heard of it…” (After all, it is one of the most important mines in Peru’s history, famous among mineralogists and collectors for fine specimens of many minerals.)

Adolfo laughed and responded that if we were successful, I was welcome to catch the next plane and he would love to host… and when we did finally close the deal, I took Adolfo up on his kind offer and set off on an adventure to Quiruvilca with my collecting partner David Joyce (www.davidkjoyceminerals.com).

A trip to Quiruvilca is a bit involved. Like many of Peru’s most famous polymetallic mines, Quiruvilca is high in the Andes. After a flight to Trujillo, the drive from sea level takes a few hours, beginning among sugar cane plantations.

Sugar Cane

The main highway services not only Quiruvilca, but other towns and mining developments, including Barrick’s Lagunas Norte (Alto Chicama) project.

Books

Although construction and improvements continue on the road, it was still a treacherous affair at the time of our visit. (A week later, a bus with 60 people crashed off of this same road into the river gorge, killing all on board.) The highway is full of large vehicles with interesting cargo.

Highway 2

And this main highway gets messy during the rainy season…

Highway 1

Traffic is all over the road. Coming around one corner, this is the view out the front  window. (Yes, the front.)

Highway 3

In part, vehicles are all over the road because of the potholes. You can see a few small ones in the photo above, but here is a view of larger ones – each one enough to swallow even a tanker truck.

Highway 4

The highway climbs up and up, into the Andes. Many afternoons in the rainy season all you get are glimpses across the mountains through small holes in the clouds.

Mountains in the Clouds

Once you get to Quiruvilca, you have climbed to an altitude of 3800 metres (12,500 ft). By the way, the name “Quiruvilca” means “sacred tooth” in the Quechua language, and refers to this formation (photo below) which rises off the top of the mountains into the sky (and which is actually a few kilometres away from the town and mine).

Tooth

Company Area

Upon arrival at the Quiruvilca Mine, we were invited to stay at the nicest residence within the gated executive housing area, near the company offices and labs. A wonderful place to stay, this complex dates to the time when Asarco owned the mine. (As the town of Quiruvilca developed as a typical mining company town, I am not sure if there would even have been any public accommodations, had we been independent visitors and not guests of the mine). As it was, we were spoiled.

Housing 1

Our house had a nice fireplace (helpful, as it was chilly during our stay, between 4 and 10 degrees C).

Housing 3

In the vicinity of the housing area and the company offices, there were trees, and yet you could still catch glimpses of the valley and mountains beyond.

Housing 2

Looking back at it all from the hills across the valley, the view includes the mill at the top, the company offices in the middle section of trees and our housing area was in the group of trees below and to the right of the middle of the photo.

Mill and Complex

Looking at the above photo for context, the Quiruvilca Mine and the town of Quiruvilca are still further up the valley (to the left in the above photo – and the highway from Trujillo comes in from the right in the above photo). A mountain scene with the mill and company complex was visible from higher up the valley by the water tower, above and just beyond past the town and mine.

Watertower

Town of Quiruvilca

The town of Quiruvilca packs a lot in – there isn’t much unused space.

Q 7

Rocks are sometimes used to add extra weight to the roofing material.

Q 1

We had a look around the central area – this little guy took a good look at us, but wasn’t inviting us for a drink.

Q 5

Sunny breaks brought people outdoors again and the sun highlighted some of the colour in the streets.

Town1

Q 2

Many of the structures and houses date back to earlier times in the life of the mining town.

Q 3

The Quiruvilca Mine

The Quiruvilca Mine is an amazingly large complex of mining operations. Although mineralization was first discovered at Quiruvilca in 1789, commercial mining did not commence until the beginning of the 20th century. The mine has produced copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc – the latter three are key in the current operations. The workings consist of several different access adits leading underground to labyrinthine networks of tunnels, raises and stopes on many levels. These workings are so extensive, having been developed and worked continuously since 1907, that no-one was able to say for sure how many kilometres of workings there are underground. A guess from having been shown the maps and plans (including the areas that are now flooded) is that there could be between 100-200km of tunnels, and possibly even more.

Although working in these kinds of mines is dangerous, the company has rigid and extensive safety rules and regulations in place. When we arrived at Quiruvilca on our first night, we were immediately given a full session of safety training and testing – about two hours’ worth. We also had a visit that night with the company doctors for testing – which came in handy later for me when the altitude got me! These high altitude mines – particularly those with legacy workings like Quiruvilca – can be tricky places, and running one safely is a complicated business.

Part of the mine is serviced by the headframe over the Elvira shaft – the Pique Elvira. I thought I’d convey the feeling of being there in a black and white photo.

Elvira

Today, mining at the Quiruvilca Mine involves small teams working stopes all over the workings – at any given time, approximately 60 separate stopes are producing and contributing to the ore going to the mill. When you think about it, this is an amazing amount of active development of headings at any given time! A total of nearly 1000 people work at the Quiruvilca mining/milling/office complex.

As for the mine itself, many of the tunnels are timbered, and some of them are constructed to accommodate rail cars to haul the ore.

Tunnel1

The timbers are replaced every two years (water weakens them over time) and the rails are replaced approximately every 6 years.

Outside the adits, the ore cars are emptied – the photo below shows ore cars outside the Morrococha adit, with the Pique Elivira in the background on the hill.

Tunnel2

Going Underground

We received detailed explanations of the workings from senior geologist, Edgar. Note all the timbers stacked on the right. We had the chance to visit a few zones in our time at Quiruvilca.

UG1

Underground, the tunnels and galleries are supported with timbers at various places – the walls are also bolted and caged in places. Some of the areas worked in the past are still visible from active areas. (Small note: you will notice bright spots in the underground photos – this is dust reflecting the flash on my camera – there is a lot of dust in the air underground when nearing active areas of the mine.)

UG2

After walking for perhaps 1.5km underground, we arrived at the raise – a series of ladders to be climbed to get to the working stope.

UG3

Up the ladders…

UG4

And at the top, we arrived at an actively working stope.

Stope1

Significant amounts of woodwork have been put in place where the walls have little structural integrity – but even in these places it was possible to see minerals. The next photo below is a pocket that contained chalcopyrite and tetrahedrite – interesting, and some micro crystals but nothing that would be considered a fine mineral specimen.

Stope2

We were taken to several working faces and given a chance to look for specimens. Senior geologists and supervisors joined in helping with our visit, and we could not have been given a better introduction to Quiruvilca.

UG5

Dave with senior geologist, Jose.

UG6

Between Dave and me is Mauro, senior supervisor in the Moroccocha workings, who led us up ladders into working stopes for collecting.

As mineral specimens go, being at Quiruvilca is similar to most mineral localities – you have to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, if you are to find fine specimens. If you stop and think about it, if the mine has 60 working faces operating for 365 days a year, the few specimens that you do see come from Quiruvilca each year come from all of that ongoing work. You would have to be in 60 places at the right time, every day, all year long, so that you were in the right place for the few fine specimens that are actually encountered. Doesn’t bode well for one’s chances on a short visit! (even though the company geologists did their best to take us to the places they felt would have the best chance on the days of the visit). We had a great time and found a few interesting small reference specimens, but that was all that was possible on this visit. We were able to examine the walls, collect what we found, and it was a super experience.

UG7

View of the sulfide veining at a working face.

As you can see, there aren’t exactly pockets gaping with crystals. In fact, the rock in the mineralized zones includes a lot of very soft material with poor competence – it just crumbles. As soon as the stope face has advanced, new timbers are put in place to support the walls. (Walking up the stope you simply climb over or under these.)

UG8

All along the stope, the sulfide-sulfosalt mineralization is evident.

UG9

Seeing lots of chalcopyrite-tetrahedrite veining, but sadly I’m not seeing any pockets or vugs here! (D.K. Joyce photo.)

Tunnel3

Underground, we waited for the lift to return us up the shaft for the hike back out.

About that Altitude…

An elevation of 3800 metres may not sound that high. With no snow and no jagged peaks, it certainly didn’t look as if we were in thin air. But if you drive that whole ascent  in a short few hours, and then dive into hiking with backpacks up and down mine ramps, and maybe add in a nice big dinner… I didn’t react that well. Two of my best friends at the mine were Miguel, the company doctor, and Mr. Oxygen Tank. Miguel grounded me from any collecting at all on Day 2 (bummer!) after I woke up in the middle of the overnight with crazy racing breathing (it was easier to breathe standing up than lying in bed (!)). They take the altitude issue very seriously – for example, once I mentioned to our house hostess Marina that I had had a small issue breathing overnight, an ambulance was at the house in under 2 minutes. And to go to the medical office for some oxygen that first morning, I felt I could easily walk, but that was refused – ambulance only. No chances are taken! With oxygen and some adjustment time, I was able to be more active after that, and was obviously more cautious, but for those of us who do not live at altitude, that rapid ascent is not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, Quiruvilca is a dry camp – had I had wine with that first dinner, I’m sure my issue would have been compounded.

Quiruvilca Geology

Excellent references include a discussion of the geology at Quiruvilca (see the list at the end of this post). As a basic overview, the geology is Miocene age – very recent in geological terms (the Miocene period is from approximately 23 to 5.3 million years ago). The host rocks are a mix of andesites, basalts and dacites, and the mineralization is concentrated in mesothermal and epithermal veins. The key to understanding the occurrence of the minerals at Quiruvilca is the classification of the four mineral zones, along with the occurrence of the vein structures.

The map below (provided by the company) gives an overview of the four zones – and note the veins (“vetas”) indicated as red lines.

Map1

The inner (orange) zone is referred to as the Enargite Zone. At one time, mining was concentrated entirely in this zone, and the workings here are extensive, though many are now flooded. This zone produced enargite, pyrite, chalcopyrite, galena, sphalerite, wurtzite, tennantite, the famous orpiment specimens, realgar, and the world’s best hutchinsonites. Sadly for mineral collectors, little mining is done here now, but some ramp work and development work have led to occasional interesting finds.

The next (deep yellow) zone, the Transition Zone, includes predominant sphalerite, with pyrite, tetrahedite-tennantite, chalcopyrite, galena, marcasite, arsenopyrite, covellite, seligmannite, jamesonite, quartz, calcite and rhodochrosite. Company records also indicate alabandite has been found in this zone.

The third (light yellow),the Lead-Zinc Zone, has been an area of high mining activity in recent times, in part due to the silver content. Mineralization includes galena, sphalerite, pyrite, chalcopyrite, tetrahedrite-tennantite, marcasite, jamesonite and arsenopyrite. Crowley, Currier and Szenics (1997) report gratonite and wurtzite from the Lead-Zinc Zone. Other minerals from this zone include quartz, calcite, dolomite and rhodochrosite. The company reports clinozoizite and manganaxinite from this zone.

Finally the outer (beige) zone is the Stibnite Zone, which is mostly beyond the area of the Quiruvilca Mine workings. Minerals of the Stibnite Zone include stibnite, arsenopyrite, arsenic, pyrite, chalcopyrite, sphalerite and galena.

Vein mineralization and paragenesis are discussed well in Crowley, Currier and Szenics (1997).

Quiruvilca Minerals 

We did our best to procure minerals from Quiruvilca! Underground work did not result in anything spectacular, although on the day I was grounded with altitude sickness Dave found some pretty great seligmannites. These are microscopic crystals only, but they have great form and iridescent colour:

Selig3Seligmannite. Field of view 1mm. (D.K. Joyce specimen and photo.)

Selig2Seligmannite. Field of view 1mm. (D.K. Joyce specimen and photo.)

Selig1Seligmannite on sphalerite. Field of view 1mm. (D.K. Joyce specimen and photo.)

We tried to buy in Quiruvilca, but specimens were incredibly scarce. We knocked on doors at miners’ homes…

Town3

Town2

…mostly to no avail, but we came up with a few things…

Pyrite1

…including a beautiful pyrite with octahedral crystal forms, totally overgrown by a second generation of pyritohedral crystals.  8cm across.

Most specimens make their way out of town within a short time of extraction from the mine – usually with runners who transport them ultimately to the mineral dealers in Lima. From there, many specimens go on to international mineral shows. One’s chances of intercepting fine mineral specimens at Quiruvilca itself are very low!

In any event, here are a few additional mineral specimens from Quiruvilca:

Arsenic

Arsenic – 10 cm

QuiruvilcaEnargite

Enargite with pyrite – a great specimen from earlier mining days in the Enargite Zone – 8 cm

Bournonite, Quiruvilca, La Libertad, Peru

Bournonite crystals on quartz – 6 cm

QuirvilcaOrpiment(5.5)

Orpiment – 5.5 cm

QuiruvilcaRealgar

 Realgar crystals up to 1 cm on orpiment.

Wavellite

Wavellite balls (to 5 mm) on quartz, from recent mining.

Wavellite2

Wavellite balls to 5 mm

Hutch3Hutchinsonite 8 mm tall with orpiment.  (D.K Joyce specimen and photo.)

QuirvilcaHutchisonite

Hutchinsonite crystals to 6 mm with tiny orpiment crystals.
Field of view approximately 3.8 cm.

Hutch1

Hutchinsonite with barite, orpiment and baumhauerite-2a, field of view 3 cm. (D.K. Joyce specimen and photo.)

Iridescent

Iridescent Sphalerite with micro Seligmannite and Quartz – Field of view 1 cm

Please note – the specimens photographed for this post are not available for sale on this website, but great Peruvian minerals are available here.

From Quiruvilca Along the Rio Moche Valley

We had a lucky break in the weather for our trip through the mountains and along the valley, so I thought I would end this post with some scenes from along the way.

Mountain1

Andes Mountains, from near Quiruvilca

Mtn2Rural dwellings, near Quiruvilca

Mtn3

Upper Rio Moche Valley (some limited farming along the valley)

Mtn4

Rio Moche Valley

Mtn5

Farms further down the valley

Farm1

Picturesque small farm

Otuzco

Veranda in Otuzco  (Might not hold party on this one)

Mtn6

Back to paved highway (thankfully!). Note traffic racing down middle of road.

Mtn8

Andes Mountains

Mtn7

Andes Mountains, with the clouds just beginning to move in

Thanks

First, of course, this could never have happened without an amazing effort organized by Adolfo and his team at Southern Peaks Mining. Thank you Adolfo! Thanks also to Pio, Edgar, Jose and Mauro for great geological, mineralogical, historical and technical insights. Thanks to Wilder, not only for all the driving around us Quiruvilca, but for dodging all those potholes on the road to and from Trujillo – and thanks to Marina for all the great meals. Special major thanks to Miguel and Mr. Oxygen Tank!

References

Excellent references for Quiruvilca and other Peruvian localities:

Crowley J.A., Currier, R.H. and Szenics T. (1997) Mines and Minerals of Peru.  The Mineralogical Record. July-August, 1997, vol 28, no. 4.

Hyrsl, J, Crowley J.A., Currier, R.H. and Szenics T. (2010) Peru – Paradise of Minerals. Soregaroli, A. and Del Castillo, G., eds.

Hyrsl, J and Rosales, Z. (2003) “Peruvian Minerals: An Update” The Mineralogical Record. May-June 2003, vol 34, no.3.

Southern Peaks Mining website: www.southernpeaksmining.com

Posted by: Raymond McDougall on 01.11.2014 | Filed under: Adventurers | Comments (0)

We have all had that moment when first looking at a pyrite from Navajún, Spain: “No way are those cubes natural.” Even if we know that they are. I have always wanted to see them in the ground…

Navajun Pyrite GroupPyrite Crystals from the Victoria Mine, Navajún, La Rioja, Spain –  7.2 x 7.1cm

In June, 2013, I was fortunate to be invited to visit Navajún, to see what is truly one of the most remarkable mineral occurrences known. Just beyond the tiny hamlet of Navajún stands the Spanish mountainside that has produced the stunning perfect pyrite cubes that have become famous around the world. This occurrence, developed and operated solely to produce pyrite specimens, is called the Mina Ampliación a Vitoria (known as the Victoria Mine). To me it is nothing short of a world wonder.

La Rioja – Soria

Navajún lies nestled in the low Alcarama Mountains of La Rioja, Spain.

Alcarama MountainsAlcarama Mountains

Mountain-Field-Road to NavajunThe countryside of the region of La Rioja – and neighbouring Soria / Castilla and Leon – is idyllic.

Field - Road to NavajunIn places, the roads traverse fields and open farmland.

Road to NavajunHowever, most of the routes wind around hills and valleys.

The land itself is sculpted with thousands of ancient terraces – it is hard to imagine the endless hard work that was expended on the terraces of this region in days of old.  They literally comprise hill after hill – the terraces themselves define much of the landscape!

Terraces - RiojaSteep terraces down into a valley

Terraces from the Mountains A landscape comprised of terraces – kilometre after kilometre

Navajun Terraces and Poppies Terraces just outside Navajún

The hilltops are dotted with villages that date back hundreds of years…

San FelicesSan Felices

The towns are graced with beautiful historic architecture…

Soria ChurchSoria

Steeple

Castilruiz

…and wonderful narrow streets evoking the past.

San Felices StreetSan Felices

In June, the hills ring with birdsong, the swallows dip and weave, and the wildflowers – particularly poppies – are everywhere.

Soria Wildflowers

 

Poppies and Foxtail Grass

Navajún itself is certainly off the beaten path, accessed after driving many kilometres of winding roads through the scenic hills, valleys and badlands of the Alcarama Mountains.

Rough Road to NavajunOne of the roads to Navajún

High Country SceneTerraces beyond the trees, near Navajún

Badlands Near NavajunBadlands near Navajún

Navajun HamletNavajún

Navajun Church TowerNavajún

Main Street, NavajunNavajún (main street, rush hour)

History – Ancient Uses of Navajún Pyrite

The mining concession for the Victoria Mine is modern, dating to 1965. However, these lands of Rioja have been inhabited by many different peoples over the ages, some of whom in fact collected and used by the pyrite cubes themselves. The inhabitants of what is now Navajún in the time period around 300BC used the pyrite crystals for magic and these local inhabitants were known as the Piritas (I love that!). During the Roman Empire, the crystals were collected and exported back to Rome where they were used as tiles in mosaics. During Medieval times, the pyrites were used locally in medicine – small cubes were ingested (!). I don’t know what the heck they were thinking – composition aside, those cubes are incredibly sharp. I would not be surprised if eating the pyrites contributed to the decline and disappearance of this Medieval community.

 Ancient Dwelling 2Ancient dwelling in the cliff

The Victoria Mine

In 1965 Pedro Ansorama Garret obtained the exploration concession for the Victoria Mine, and the mining concession has been operated for mineral specimens continuously since 1970.

The mine is now owned and operated by his son, Pedro, and the mining operations and preparation laboratory involve a team of several people. All of the workings are susceptible to water inflow (as you can see) and pumping is required at times – significant pumping was planned to occur not long after my visit.

 

Bird's Eye View Level 1The Victoria Mine

The mining operations have been conducted on three levels of the mountainside. The lowest level is all open pit – it is the largest of the workings and to date has produced the most spectacular specimens.

Victoria Mine Level 1Level 1

The second level, accessed by a road that takes you a few hundred metres further along, has also produced some spectacular specimens.

Road to Level 2Up to Level 2…

Level 2 Open PitLevel 2

Level 2 AditWork on Level 2 has included the development of an adit.

The third, highest, level, is described by Pedro as “reserves” – there is a good outcrop with excellent production potential, but it is likely only to be developed sometime in the future. The third level is quite beautiful, with the pyrites outcropping naturally.

Level 3Level 3

In the outcropping marl on Level 3, beautiful sharp pyrite crystals line the bottom of a tiny stream coming down the hillside. How often to you get to see collection-calibre material staring up at you from within a stream?

Pyrite in Stream (1)Pyrite crystals in the stream

Pyrite in Stream (2)Pyrites in the stream

Pyrite at Edge of StreamPyrite crystals at the edge of the stream

Level 3 View (1)Looking back from the Level 3 outcrop

Level 3 View (2)The view from Level 3 – the Level 1 dumps in the foreground and the valley below

Geology

The host rock is marl, dating to the Cretaceous Period (spanning approximately the period from 145 to 66 million years ago). At the Victoria Mine there are three major zones where inclined Cretaceous marl containing the pyrite crystals outcrop at surface. The thickness of each of these strata varies, but averages about 2.5 metres. The mean inclination of the formation is approximately 15%.

GeologyMarl, slightly inclined, hosting pyrite crystals (visible at right side of photo)

Mineralogy

Pyrite from the Victoria Mine is often mirror-bright, sharp and perfect beyond compare. Although pyrite is too abundant and wonderfully varied to proclaim the “world’s best pyrite”, these are generally regarded as the world’s best cubic crystals of pyrite. Crystals range in size from 1mm up to, rarely, about 20 cm. As is true throughout the wold of minerals, usually the larger crystals are not as brilliantly lustrous and razor sharp as the smaller ones – although stunning, jaw-dropping large crystals have been found here.

Pyrite PairPyrite from the Victoria Mine, Navajún, La Rioja, Spain – 4.5 x 4.3 cm

The pyrite commonly occurs demonstrating simple cube morphology, although other crystal forms are also found at the Victoria Mine (and at other nearby localities in this region). Pyritohedral crystals are also present at the locality and cuboctahedral crystals have been found as well, but are rare at the Victoria Mine.

100200(1)

Pyrite from the Victoria Mine, Navajún, La Rioja, Spain – 6.0 x 4.2 cm

100222

Pyrite from the Victoria Mine, Navajún, La Rioja, Spain – 6.1  x 5.4 cm

Although what we tend to see in the photographs, museums and mineral shows are the perfect sharp cubes with mirror lustre, in fact the mode of occurrence and condition of Victoria Mine pyrites varies considerably. Some of the pyrite crystals can be quite distorted, and some show varying degrees of oxidation.

Distorted Pyrite CrystalsPyrite crystals at Level 2

The pyrite crystals occur encased within a very thin soft coating – this coating protects the crystals and is undoubtedly part of the reason we are able to enjoy such wonderfully preserved crystals, but on the other hand, it leads the crystals to want to detach from the matrix!

Pyrite in Situ (1)Pyrite crystals to 3cm in the wall on Level 1 – note the thin white shell material in which the crystals are encased.

The matrix itself is incredibly weak and friable, and water causes it to deteriorate – the only thing this stuff wants to do is crumble. (Important Note: NEVER clean a matrix pyrite specimen from Navajun in water – it will fall apart!).

Pyrite in Situ (2)Pyrite crystals to 2cm, with their white coating, waiting to fall out of the crumbling marl on Level 1

Also, owing to the matrix, many joints between interlocking pyrite crystals have weakened, so that when you collect them, they most often detach and roll out of the rock as individual single crystals with points of contact where they were formerly attached to or interlocked with others. This is absolutely not always the case with tight groups or, for example, closely interlocked pairs, but overall it is incredibly common. For this reason, collecting at the working face is actually a bit of a tease – they look so awesome in the wall, but just try collecting a nice mineral specimen!

Pyrite in WallPyrite crystals to approximately 3cm in the wall on Level 1 – the host rock here was slightly less friable

Pyrite in Situ (3)Pyrite crystals in a different section of Level 1

Now that I have seen the crystals in situ at the locality, I truly appreciate the challenge of preserving them as excellent mineral specimens…

Pyrite Specimen Preparation

So if the matrix is friable and weakened by water (I mean some of this stuff crumbles when you simply look in its direction), and then the soft white coatings and loose crystal contacts and joints are all conspiring against us, how exactly do we end up with the spectacular pyrite specimens from the Victoria Mine?

(1) Meticulous collecting and (2) expert lab work!

After spending time at the working face I understand just how much of the value of the final specimens is the result of the amazing work that is done by Pedro and his team. Six people now work in the laboratory, year-round. Pyrite specimens, with corresponding matrix and all associated (and formerly joined), interlocking crystals are all painstakingly collected and transported from the mine to the lab together, where they are then carefully unwrapped, cleaned, and reassembled.

Pyrites in the labImagine putting them all back together!

This work requires an incredible amount of patience and skill.

Completed Pyrite in LabRepair work on this specimen was just finished.  Group is 10cm tall.

LaboratoryCompleted specimens ready for final cleaning

Pedro and PyritePedro with a remarkable cluster

Pyrite ClusterCloser view of the cluster – approximately 15 cm.  A small amount of chamosite is visible on lower crystals.

The work that is required to preserve the Navajún pyrites is an interesting example for consideration when it comes to the discussion of repairs in specimen mineralogy (for more on this, see Beware the Hand of Man: Fakes, Treatments, Repairs and Other Alterations). If not for this painstaking work, we would simply have loose, single crystals from the Victoria Mine, never (or virtually never) in matrix, and only sometimes remaining interlocked with others. Even worse, since so many pyrite crystals from this occurrence interlock with others, and then detach from those others when they are removed from the rock, most of the single crystals we would have would be contacted or damaged.

When the pyrites from the Victoria mine are repaired – reassembled so that they appear as they occurred naturally – the repairs essentially make up for what happened to them when they were disturbed by the collecting process. Is this level of repair acceptable for you? To me it would be a complete waste not to repair them, and nothing about the integrity of the pyrites themselves is impacted by the repair process. However, these things are personal – I know that even a repair like this (let alone repairs involving restoration) will be unacceptable to some people. It’s always a spectrum, the repair issue, but I love these pyrites and am grateful they are being preserved for us all to marvel at.

Final Thoughts

The pyrite crystals from the Victoria Mine are unique and, frankly, awe inspiring. To have had a chance to see that those unbelievable perfect cubes really DO come out of the ground was a great experience. I am grateful to Pedro for his warm hospitality, the opportunity to enjoy wonderful local cuisine and wine together, his generosity with his wealth of information about the region, and his incredible patience with my Spanish.  I will close with two photographs and a question for you to ponder. Since this is such a beautiful region, first is one last view from the mountains.

View Over the MountainsAlcarama Mountains

The second one is of the great statue of St. Peter over the main entrance to the Concatedral de San Pedro in Soria… but the question…

Key

… is this statue holding the keys of Heaven? Or is it a depiction of holding the keys to Pyrite Heaven (the Victoria Mine)?

Pyrite specimens from the Victoria Mine are available on our website – click here to have a look.