Man Made Minerals

This blog post was inspired by a recent BBC article I read on minerals. The full article can be found here if you would like to read more (after you have read this blog post, of course!):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-39133897

It has recently been announced that over 200 ‘new’ minerals (4% of the total known minerals) have been discovered – these minerals own their existence to us. As strange as it sounds, human behaviour has led to the formation of these substances. To me, this initially seemed strange and wrong. Minerals have been around for millennia, whist we have been around for a much smaller time period.

By Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6911957

(Please note: Amethyst is a naturally occurring mineral!)

Minerals are defined as ‘a naturally occurring crystalline compound that has a unique combination chemical composition and crystal structure’ (source: http://www.mining.com/human-activity-creates-208-new-mineral-species/, acceded 8th March 2017)

They have come about due to humans creating chemical reactions that would not or should not have happened. For example, Tungsten Carbide (Formula = WC(!)), used in ball point pens will leave it’s mark (no pun intended) on future geological record in the Earth’s crust.

The article lists but a few of these new minerals, my favourite being Nealite (Pb4Fe(AsO3)2Cl4·2H2O), a lead containing ore that forms when slag (from the extraction of iron in the blast furnace) comes into contact with seawater. This has been found in Greece at ancient sites.

The names of some of these ores are quite extravagant, for example, some are called wheatleyite, widgiemoolthalite,acetamide, hoelite and kladnoite, paceite and hoganite.

Mines seem to be a rich source of these new minerals but some are found in more unusal places. Calclacite, for example, was formed actually formed in storage cabinets in museums!

The article goes on to say that it will now be inevitable that mankind will leave its record in the Earth’s crust – with future mineralogists finding plentiful supplies of the man-made substances in the Earth’s crust.

What this article also said to me was that intelligent life (ie, us, humans) has only evolved once on Earth. I have heard of some theories of intelligent life on Earth to be a reoccurring theme – intelligent life evolves, kills itself off and then a new form of it evolves to take its space. If this were the case, surely these man-made minerals would be found in much older samples of rocks, deeper down in the Earth’s crust ….. which they are not … or, is it because they have not yet been discovered?! I’ll let you ponder the answer to that 😉

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