Monday, February 6, 2017


The vanadates are among my favorite group of minerals, and along with the phosphates and arsenates, are usually grouped and studied together.  In these three groups, arsenic (As) or phosphorous (P) or vanadium (V) combine with oxygen (O) to from the arsenate (AsO4), phosphate (PO4) and vanadate (VO4) radicals.  Each of these radicals, with a negative charge of 3-  then combines with a positive charged cation metal(s), and often with water (H2O) or hydroxide (OH), to form a wide variety of minerals.  Since the three radicals are approximately the same size they often substitute for one another in a solid solution series.  For example, pyromorphite [lead phosphate [Pb5(PO4)3Cl] is in solid solution with mimetite [lead arsenate Pb5(AsO4)3Cl]---the negatively charged radicals change.  The latter mineral is usually a pale yellow to yellow-brown color while pyromorphite is usually green to yellow-green in color; however, intermediate stages in the solid solution series are known (from work with XRD or EDS or other gizmos).  Each of these radical groups may also combine with a variety of metals (cations with a positive charge) that often form solid solution series with each other.  For example, erythrite [cobalt arsenate] is in a complete solid solution series with annabergite [nickel arsenate] as the cobalt cation substitutes for the nickel cation: Co3(AsO4)2-8(H20) to Ni3(AsO4)2-8(H20). Therefore, it is easy to understand the wide range, number and variety of arsenate, phosphate and vanadate minerals when so many combinations of cations and radicals are possible.

Many arsenate—phosphate—vanadate minerals are bright in color, have easily observable crystals and are widely available at mineral shows.  Therefore, I am a sucker, actually a buyer, whenever these minerals are located at shows (if the price is right)! 

The arsenates and the phosphates are well known minerals such as copper arsenates: olivenite and clinoclase and cornwallite; and copper, zinc arsenate: austinite; cobalt arsenate: erythrite; lead arsenate: mimetite; and nickel arsenate: annabergite.  The phosphates include such minerals as calcium phosphate: apatite group; lead phosphate: pyromorphite; lithium phosphate: triphylite and amblygonite; copper aluminum phosphate: turquoise; and the rare-earth phosphates: monazite and xenotime.
The vanadates are not nearly as well know, or as common, as the previous groups but do include carnotite, a uranium vanadate; mottramite and descloizite, copper-rich and zinc-rich vanadates forming a solid solution series; and the best known of the group, vanadinite, the red to orange lead mineral with beautiful and collectible hexagonal crystals.

At the 2016 Tucson Show I was rummaging through some minerals at Shannon and Sons toward closing time and came upon a specimen of pottsite.  Normally I would have known little about this strange mineral except I had been reading about minerals containing bismuth (Bi).  Pottsite is a quite rare hydrated (H2O) lead and bismuth vanadate [(Pb3Bi)Bi(VO4)4-H2O] found in the oxide zones of tungsten-bearing rocks.  MinDat noted that pottsite is the only natural lead-bismuth vanadate known.  The Pb/Bi ratio varies from0.86 to 1.48. At the rock and mineral shows that I frequent pottsite is not a common mineral for sale as the mineral has only been found in four localities (MinDat): Cordoba, Argentina; Bavaria, Germany; and Nevada, USA (Churchill and Lander counties).  It seems as most of the collected specimens come from the type locality, the Linka (AKA Garnetite) Mine, Spencer Hot Springs District in Lander County.  The major target at the Linka was tungsten with slight recovery of copper and molybdenum.  Sherlock and others (1996) defined the Spencer Hot Springs District as a “Tungsten Skarn” where scheelite-bearing [calcium tungstate], calc-silicate rocks are formed at boundaries of hot magma bodies (a granodiorite at Linka) and carbonate rocks.  The hot fluids dissolve some of the carbonate rocks (a process of metamorphism called metasomatism) and deposit a wide variety of minerals dependent upon the composition of the hydrothermal fluid.  Evidently at the Spencer Hots Springs District, tungsten was a major component of the fluids along with secondary? lead, vanadium and bismuth.  I remain uncertain as to the rareness of combining lead and bismuth.
Macro photograph  showing crust of yellow microscopic crystals of pottsite.  Width of specimen ~1.5 cm.
Pottsite occurs as a bright yellow, almost druse, of microscopic (usually submillimeter) prismatic crystals (Tetragonal), or as stubby prisms or bipyramids.  They appear to be translucent to transparent and are soft at ~3.5 (Mohs). 

All of the above are photomicrographs showing submilimeter prismatic to stubby crystals of yellow pottsite. I am simply uncertain about the globular orange minerals. the chalky white mineral may be bismutite that lost the copper component?  These were also the best enlargements that I could produce with my equipment. 
The mineralization process concluding with the formation of pottsite is a complex sequence of events.  Williams (1988), in describing this new mineral, pointed out:  Pottsite is a product of oxidation that followed these events [late metamorphism]. Junoite [copper lead bismuth sulfide] was first replaced by waxy green Bismutite [bismuth carbonate] streaked with grey cerussite [lead carbonate]; the green bismutite then lost copper and became chalky white. Typically the bismutite was then converted to a powdery orange (unknown) bismuth vanadate which, in turn was replaced by clinobisvanite [bismuth vanadate]. Sparkling crusts of this mineral are commonplace in fractures anywhere close to oxidized junoite. In a few spots pottsite has replaced the unknown bismuth vanadate instead of clinobisvanite. It does not occur in association with clinobisvanite.
I originally thought that perhaps some orange material in the small sample was clinobisvanite (BiVO4).  However, I could not locate any fluorescence in the specimen---any indicator of clinobisvanite.  I also remain somewhat confused (not all that difficult) with the statement by Williams (1988): It [pottsite] does not occur in association with clinobisvanite.  My confusion relates to photos on MinDat showing specimens with both minerals present.  Perhaps new studies since 1988 have shown both minerals may be found together?  One of life’s persistent questions!

Speaking of those questions:  Life’s most persistent and urgent question is “What are you doing for others?”
                             Martin Luther King, Jr.


Sherlock, M.G., D.P. Cox, and D.F. Huber, 1996, Known mineral deposits and occurrences in Nevada: in Chapter 10 from Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology Open-File Report 96-2: An analysis of Nevada's metal-bearing mineral resources):

Williams, S.A., 1988, Pottsite, a new vanadate from Lander County, Nevada: Mineralogical Magazine, v. 52.

Friday, February 3, 2017


In wandering through my collection of minerals brought home from the 2016 Tucson Show, I came across a specimen of emmonsite.  I reached to the back recesses of my mind trying to remember why I purchased such a specimen.  Yes, it is a nice green-yellow color and looked interesting under the loupe but then I remembered—I was going to check and see if emmonsite was named for the famous geologist Samuel Franklin Emmons.  Well, I finally got around to checking and sure enough emmonsite [Fe2(TeO3)3-2H2O], a fairly rare iron (ferric) tellurite, was named for a well-known geologist that Colorado has sort of claimed as a native son (although he was born in Boston in 1841 and descended from a long line of native Bostonians—lineages arrived in the 1630s), or at least a favorite son.
S.F. Emmons, ca. 1860s.  Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.
The following information is abstracted and interpreted from Hague (1912) who wrote a “Biographical Memoir” of Emmons published by the National Academy of Sciences.  Emmons was one of those “old fashioned” geologists, attending private primary and secondary schools in Boston and finishing up at the Dixwell Latin School.  Emmons was educated to become a gentleman of broad culture, refined manners, and to enter Harvard University, which he did at age 17, and graduated in 1861.  When I first read “1861” I wondered why he did not enlist in the U.S Army since Harvard furnished a number of students to the anti-slavery movement.  Hague (1912) noted that Emmons’ father persuaded him to pursue a professional career, rather than to follow many classmates into military service.  To further discourage enlistment (I presume), Emmons was sent by his father, after graduation, to Europe in order to accompany his mother on a health recuperation trip.  He seemed to have spent the summer of 1861 climbing mountains and hiking, and presumably taking care of his mother.  She sailed back to the States in November while Emmons toured London and ended the year in Paris.  In the City of Eternal Light, Emmons spent nine months working under private tutors in order to relearn French and prepare for entrance exams to the prestigious Ecole Imperiale des  Mines  (School of Mines).  Emmons spent two years at the School of Mines and then decided he wanted to get a more practical mining experience (hands-on) so spent the next year (1865) at the Bergakademie (Mountain Academy) at Freiberg, Saxony, Germany (where there were mines at the city limits).   After leaving Freiberg, Emmons spent the winter in Italy and finally returned to Boston in June 1866 (probably to the delight of his family since the conflict was over).
As a graduate student at the University of Utah, I fell “in love” with reading about the geological exploration of the American West via the Great Surveys:  F.V. Hayden and the United States Geological Survey of the Territories; Clarence King and the Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel; John Wesley Powell and The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons; George M. Wheeler and the many volumes of Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian.  These surveys of the western United States ultimately were reorganized (1879) into the United States Geological Survey.
A "Great Surveys" volume picked up at a garage sale 50 years ago.
This was an exciting time to be at the University since the senior instructors were only a couple or three generations removed from the early western geologists and had traversed the wide-open spaces of the west when it was still “wild.”  They had been trained as classical geologists (mostly in the eastern U.S.)  and tried to impart their thoughts to the students, especially the need for precise field work.  Our field trips often were taken to areas touched by Great Surveys.  I sort of fell into a trance standing at the entrance to Ladore Canyon on the Green River trying to imagine what John Wesley Powell felt as he guided his small boats into the “great unknown.”  Students were greatly impressed with the detective work of Clarence King (including Emmons) and his geologists in debunking the great diamond find in northwestern Colorado and we wondered if a ruby or diamond still were to be found?  Alas, no luck.
But back to Emmons (following Hague, 1912).  Upon returning to the States Emmons secured a job, at first as an unpaid volunteer, with the King Survey and they sailed for California in May 1867. He later was hired as an assistant geologist and Hague (1912) noted that Emmons “was full of youthful spirits and manly exhilaration over the work before us.”   Emmons worked for 10 years with various aspects of the King Survey that perhaps culminated with the publication (890 pages) of descriptive geology.  I did not realize (no surprise here) that after leaving the Survey Emmons “engaged actively in cattle ranching, and for some time made his home in Cheyenne, Wyoming.”
In 1879, the U.S. Congress created the Bureau of the Geological Survey (the USGS) and Clarence King was appointed the first director on April 3.  On August 4 of that year King appointed Emmons as “Geologist in Charge of the Rocky Mountain Division” and a mandate to devote his first years to “a study of the mineral wealth of the Rocky Mountains.”  In 1886, Emmons was the lead author of USGS Monograph XII, Geology and Mining Industry of Leadville, Colorado with Atlas (~779 pages).  Hague (1912) noted that it “won for its author an international reputation…probably no single publication of the geological survey has exerted a more beneficial influence and stimulated more discussion.”  Professional geologists could ask for little more than an accolade like that.
After Leadville Emmons lead an active geological life with an amazing number of papers on a wide variety of subjects, including: On glaciers in the Rocky Mountains; Notes on gold deposits in Montgomery, County, Maryland; Geology of the Tintic Special District, Utah.  In Colorado Emmons is remembered for excellent papers on Colorado ore deposits, Geology of Aspen Mining District, Geology of the Elk Mountains, Geology of Rosita and Silver Cliff and Mines of Custer County, Geology of the Denver Basin, and Geology of the Ten Mile District.  I would encourage interested readers to observe his bibliography (Hague, 1912) found at:  In addition to his publications, Emmons was one of the founding members of the Geological Society of America and served as the President in 1903.
Also of interest to Colorado scientists: (in the history of the Colorado Scientific Society, the oldest scientific society in the Rocky Mountain region at   On the evening of December 8th, 1882, a number of gentlemen interested in the formation of a scientific association met in the rooms of the United States Geological Survey, in Denver, at the invitation of Mr. Samuel Franklin Emmons.” “Mr. Emmons, in stating the object of the meeting, said that it seemed to him that the time had come for those persons in Colorado who were interested in true science to unite in forming an association or society, whose immediate object would be to facilitate the interchange of scientific observations and ideas, and promote intercourse among the observers themselves. There should be some means of recording and publishing the many interesting and valuable facts which are daily observed in different parts of the State. This could be done through the medium of a society, and the opportunity thus afforded would no doubt act as a stimulus to some to pursue investigations in directions specially open to them.” “An informal discussion ensued in which the advisability of such a step was advocated, and it was agreed to proceed at once to form a permanent organization.” “The following named persons were unanimously chosen as officers for the first year: President—Samuel Franklin Emmons Vice-President—Richard Pearce Secretary—Whitman Cross.”
Although Emmons was not a “Native Coloradoan” his work certainly qualified him as perhaps the most respected geologist in in the state’s history.  Emmons was active until his death in 1911.  Hague (1912) noted that “he left a noble record of life’s work well performed.”
Among other honors bestowed on Emmons, Colorado designated a 12,401-foot peak near Crested Butte in the West Elk Mountains as Mt. Emmons.  Not to be outdone, Utah designated a 13,448-foot peak in the High Uintas Wilderness as Mt. Emmons.  Interestingly, the Utah peak is connected by a rugged ridge to the highest peak in Utah, Kings Peak at 13,534 feet.  So, even in death Emmons and his long-time friend and colleage, Clarence King, remain connected.
Mt. Emmons, Colorado, 12,401 feet.  Photo courtesy Google Earth.
Mt. Emmons, Utah, 13,448 feet.  Photo courtesy Google Earth.
This offering started out about the mineral emmonsite and so it will finish with the same.  Emmonsite is one of a few minerals that contain the element tellurium, a silver-white metalloid (possesses properties of both metals and non-metals). Tellurium is an extremely rare element as most rocks contain about 3 parts per billion and is 8 times less abundant than gold (Goldfarb, 2014), and is related to selenium but may be only mildly toxic!  Tellurium is rarely found in a native form.
Tellurium can act as a cation with a +2 valance as in the uncommon mineral tellurite, TeO2, or with a +6 valence as in jensenite, Cu3TeO6-2H2O   The telluride anion with a charge of -2 can combine with gold and silver cations in the minerals calaverite (AuTe2) and sylvanite (AuAgTe4).  These telluride minerals form major gold ores at Cripple Creek, Colorado.  So, it is confusing when one talks about tellurium, tellurite, and telluride.
Emmonsite [Fe2+++(Te++++O3)3-2H2O; a hydrated iron tellurite, occurs in a wide variety of habits from microscopic druses, to hair-like masses, sprays, compact masses, globs, and small acicular crystals.  I could not locate information on larger than microscopic crystals but MinDat lists emmonsite as belonging to the Triclinic System. It has a green to yellow-green color, vitreous to subvitreous to even dull luster, opaque to translucent to transparent diaphaneity, and is reasonably hard at ~5.0 (Mohs).  Its characteristic yellow-green color combined with the often branching (coral-like) or fungus-like shape are the best identifying marks.  Emmonsite is a secondary mineral found in the oxide zones of hydrothermal tellurium-bearing base minerals.  It is often found with native tellurium and the telluride minerals.
Green, fungal-like habit of emmonsite.  Length main "mass" of mineral ~4 mm.
Hillebrand (1885) gave the type locality of emmonsite as Tombstone, Arizona. As described by Pearl (1941), the discovery of a new mineral which he named emmonsite in honor of Samuel B. Emmons, first president of the Colorado Scientific Society and one of America's outstanding geologists, was told by W. F. Hillebrand at the meeting of the society at the Arapahoe County (now Denver) Court House on June 1, 1885. The mineral had been sent by R. C. Hills from an uncertain locality near Tombstone, Arizona Territory. So, it would seem that Emmons was (may have been) at the Colorado Scientific Society meeting when Hillebrand gave his description of emmonsite.
Hillebrand (1904) also described emmonsite(?) from Colorado and in Bulletin 262 of the USGS (1905) stated a green mineral was collected at the W.P.H. Mine at Cripple Creek that showed a close resemblance to emmonsite he described 20 years ago (the specimen from Tombstone).  However, Williams (1980) believed that the mineral described from Tombstone actually was rodalquilarite, a hydrogen iron tellurite chloride.  Eckel and others (1997) then believed it would then make sense to declare the mines at Cripple Creek, Colorado, as the type locality for emmonsite.  However, I note that MinDat still lists Tombstone as the type locality.
My specimen of emmonsite was collected from the Bambolla Mine (Montezuma Mine) located in Municipio de Moctezuma, Sonora, Mexico.  I have been unable to locate much information on the Mine other than in the 1970s, it was a producing gold mine.  I assume, that like nearby mines, mineralization was related to hydrothermal activity associated with Tertiary volcanic action.  However, the amazing information is that the Mine, and the nearby (half mile away) Bambollita Mine, are the type localities of at least 23 tellurium-bearing minerals!  Also, I stumbled upon an article, actually a discussion, of a micro-mineral group (Associazione Micro-mineralogica Italiana).  Luckily, the discussion was in English!  At any rate, Ciriotti (2010) noted: Oxide-zone tellurium minerals are relatively rare worldwide… 71 known Te-oxide minerals, 68 of which are considered valid species; most are either tellurite (Te4+O3)2- or tellurate (Te6+O6)6- species… over 60% of the species (43 out of 71) were discovered at only four deposits: Moctezuma, Mexico; Tombstone, Arizona; Centennial Eureka Mine, Utah; and Otto Mountain, California. In fact, nearly a third of all Te-O mineral species were discovered in just one deposit: Moctezuma. Many of these species are still found at only one locality today… The four leading occurrences listed above are all oxidized base metal deposits, and not surprisingly, 60% of all Te-O minerals contain Pb and/or Cu. If Zn and Fe are added in, this increases to 84%... And that sort of sums up my limited knowledge about tellurium minerals.

This is one of those postings that started out as a simple discussion of the Colorado Scientific Society and its first president S. F. Emmons.  However, it morphed into the fascinating world of tellurium and the resulting minerals.  I am still trying to digest some of the information but needed to draw a conclusion line---somewhere!  Unfortunately, the length and breadth of the subject may turn off all but the most dedicated readers and for this I apologize.  But, just as a dog worries a bone I worry a subject that I don’t really understand.  The good thing is that “new learning” is a joy for me and hopefully keeps my brain alive. My philosophy about learning may be summed up by two rather famous individuals:

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.  Anyone who keeps learning stays young.   Henry Ford

Every time I learn something new it pushes some old stuff out of my brain.    Homer Simpson

Ciriotti, M.E., 2010, Oxidation zone tellurium minerals: Associazione Micro-mineralogica Italiana.
Eckel,E.B. (and others), 1997, Minerals of Colorado: Denver, Fulcrum Publishing.
Goldfarb, R., 2014, Tellurium—the bright future of solar energy: USGS Fact Sheet 2014-3077.
Hague, A., 1912, Biographical memoir of Samuel Franklin Emmons, 1841-1911: National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs, v. VII. 
Hillebrand, W.F., 1885, Emmonsite, a ferric tellurite: Colorado Scientific Society Proceedings, v. 2, pt. 1.
Hillebrand, W.F., 1904, Emmonsite(?) from a new locality: American Journal of Science, 4th Series, v. 18, no. 108.
Hillebrand, 1905, Two tellurium minerals from Colorado: U.S. geological Survey Bulletin 262. 
Pearl, R.M., 1941, Minerals named for Colorado men: Colorado Magazine, v. 18, no. 2.

Williams, S.A., 1980, The Tombstone district, Cochise County, Arizona: Mineralogical Record, v. 11, no. 4.

Monday, January 23, 2017


Today, in the middle of Kansas, is a small town with a population of “around” 400 persons and maybe a hundred more if one counts free-range dogs.  I left the town ~55 years ago when the population was about 400 people plus the dogs.  It was a pretty "normal" farming community where a “typical farm” ranged from a section quarter to perhaps an entire section.  Larger acreages usually included some land rented by the farmer.  In addition, each farm usually raised a few head of livestock—hogs, cattle, chickens—for sale and for personal use.  Dogs abounded as did the free-range cats that were called “mousers.”  The cats were “just there” and were often quite wild.  In addition, because of inbreeding there were several of these animals that were not the sharpest pencil in the box!
Free-range dogs appreciate attention, especially after a long hike.  The broken clavicle?  Just a little friendly wrestling match!
I distinctly remember Saturday evenings when the outlying occupants came into to town for the weekly “trading” (as my mother called it) at the two grocery stores.  The trading was usually in the form of chicken eggs that a farmer might bring in and “trade” for a few groceries.  My father operated a gasoline (plus the usual small scale mechanic work) station and rarely took in trades unless he figured out that commodities would be his only way to collect a debt.  One time we had enough butter to last a year, and to a small kid that staple was magic compared to the terrible tasting oleomargarine that usually stocked our pantry.

One of the great things about growing up in such a small town was the fact that kids were like the local dogs---free-range. We simply wandered all over town and had a boundary of about one mile in any rural direction to explore.  Just be home by supper.
Old friends after a tough day of hunting for turdites.  That Kansas sun can be hot so don't laugh at the hat!
I bring this up since I was a rockhound at an early age and always picked up and hauled home anything that caught my eye.  But, I also named many of these special rocks—nothing serious since I didn’t have the slightest idea what they really were.  Therefore, my names were like crickite (we pronounced the streams cricks) for finding the stone in a creek, roundyites (shape), slaberoos due to the layering, and turdites, a young boy’s favorite rock name (giggle, giggle), etc.  The names I conjured up generally were due to either shape or location.  Today, I suppose most new mineral names come from honoring a person.  However, one mineral I could have named as a child is the sulfosalt cylindrite (FePb3Sn4Sb2S14).  What appears as crystals in cylindrite specimens are actually rolled up flat sheets in the form of a cylinder, kind of like rolled tobacco leaves in a cigar.  Unfortunately, I never had a chance to collect the mineral as most specimens come from Bolivia.
Massive cylindrite mixed with the typical rolled-up sheets.  Longest cylinder in center is ~1.1 cm.
Photomicrograph (black & white) of above specimen.  The shiny metallic luster does not work well with my scope. Again, the longest cylinder is ~1.1 cm.
Cylindrite belongs to the sulfosalt minerals, a member of the sulfides group.  Sulfosalts contain a metal (mostly lead, copper, iron or silver although a few others, mercury, zinc, vanadium may be present), a semi-metal like arsenic, germanium, bismuth, antimony, or the metals tin or vanadium, and then sulfur (Richards, 1999).  

Because of the interesting habit of cylindrite, I found a specimen last February at one of the Tucson dealers (Shannon and Sons Minerals). The mineral is black to dark gray in color with a metallic luster.  It is quite soft at ~2.5 (Mohs) and has the traditional opaque diaphaneity of metals and the malleable tenacity. Although cylindrite appears in massive or cylindrical forms, Triclinic crystals are present but tiny (beyond the limits of my microscope).  I really don’t understand the mechanism behind the formation of cylinders.  Evidently, cylindrite originally occurs as stacked and layered structures but these flat sheets begin to deform from pressure and “roll up” into smooth cylinders.  MinDat states that “layer curving is one of the ways of an accommodation of the dimensional sheet misfit by a cylindrite crystal.”  That is about all that I can understand!  However, I do note that several references refer to cylindrite rolls as crystals; however, the large rolls are not individual crystals but rolled up sheets and the sheets are composed of individual crystals.

Cylindrite is a fairly rare mineral and most specimens come from mines in Brazil; my specimen was collected from the Itos Mine, Oruro City.  There are several tin-silver mines in the area and some produce cylindrite.  The mineral seems to form as the result of hydrothermal solution next to an igneous intrusion. For reasons beyond my comprehension, there are numerous studies that have been completed on synthesizing cylindrite and relatives (mainly franckeite).  During these studies microprobe analyses indicate there may be some solid solution series between lead and tin in cylindrite. I have read a number of these papers without really understanding much—see Jiuling and others, 1988.  I simply picked up my specimen due to the nifty habit of rolled up cylinders.

Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a parkbench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy
Old friends, memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fears.
                             Simon and Garfunkel  

Jiuling, L., H. Jiashan, Z. Kezi and Z. Guilan, 1988,  An experimental study on three quaternary phases in the Fe-Sn-Sb-S System: Pb-free Franckeite, Pb-free Cylindrite and (Fe, Sb)-Ottemannite s.s.: Acta Geologica Sinica, v. 1, no. 4.

Richards, J.P., 1999, Encyclopedia of Geochemistry in Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series, C.P Marshall and R.W. Fairbridge, eds.: Springer Netherlands.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


This posting is a little off the track of my "normal" work; however, it might be of interest to some readers!  As a member of the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society, I also am a member of the Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineralogical Societies (see  The Federation has a number of Committees (see website) and I chair the International Relations Committee---not because I have a great deal of knowledge about such matters but because I volunteered to help the Federation.  In fact, the recent posting on BLM fossil collecting rules was written for another Committee I chair, the Public Lands Access Committee.  The following is my report for the annual Federation meeting---March, Albuquerque.    


Mike Nelson           

I have found that being Chair of the RMFMS International Relations Committee is not an onerous job and actually produces some interesting questions.  Some are easily answered, while others require some serious thought before an answer.  Most questions coming from international rockhounds fall in the area of  “I am visiting INSERT STATE where can I collect minerals or fossils?”  I make an attempt to answer these inquiries for states of which I am somewhat familiar—most of the Great Plains, a few in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains.  My first line of defense is to suggest state rockhounding and geology “travel” books, the second is to recommend websites of the various state geological surveys. My third line is to suggest joining a local rock and mineral club in order to participate in their fields trips and will point rockhounds to appropriate clubs. Then I attempt to explain about collecting on federal and state land as well as trespassing on private land.  Collecting minerals would seem an easy talk; however, try explaining claims and markers—and my warning about: do not even venture to Mt. Antero looking for aquamarines.  First, because of the high altitude (13,000 feet) a rockhound could die, but second, virtually the entire mountain is claimed.

Explaining about collecting fossils used to be an easy task---stay away from vertebrate fossils, fill up any collecting holes in searching for invertebrate fossils, and keep under the pound limit for petrified word.  However, the new collecting rules on USFS and BLM lands confuses even professional paleontologists.  

I have received three inquiries from international rockhounds with questions like “I purchased this specimen (photo enclosed) at a mineral fair but the only listed locality is INSERT STATE.  Can you help me find the locality?”  A photo of calcite sand crystals was fairly easy to pinpoint as Rattlesnake Butte in South Dakota (some want latitude and longitude).  I gave an educated guess for azurite blueberries as coming from the Blue Crystal Mine in the La Sal Mountains in Utah.  A specimen with garnets probably came from New England but where?

I also receive requests to send or trade minerals.  One person wanted me to send over samples of sand, including a sample containing azurite crystals.  I have not provided any sample or minerals for international shipments since some countries have laws prohibiting the import of rockhounding “stuff.”

A couple of gentlemen from the U.S. wanted information about bringing precious stones back from their upcoming vacation visit to southeast Asia.  What do I know about that—very little.  First, I suggested contacting a reputable dealer and not purchasing any nice-looking stones (like rubies) from a street seller.  Second, I told them to search information established by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  For satisfying my own curiosity I found the following information:

Personal imports of these items are usually cleared informally and do not require a Customs bond. However, if you purchased them while you were abroad, ensure you declare them when clearing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on the CBP Form 6059B. Imports of diamonds, pearls, rubies, sapphires and emeralds from countries with normal trade relation status are duty-free as long as they are not permanently strung, set or mounted. Additional duty rates for these items can be found in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) in chapter 71.  

When these items are set, or mounted with some sort of metal, they are classified as jewelry and subject to duty. These rates can also be found in chapter 71. Diamonds also require a Kimberley Certificate, more information can be found on the State Department brochure and website

Please be aware that there are sanctions against diamonds imported from Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia and other countries. Visit the Kimberley Process website for the most recent list of countries.  See the Kimberley Process Certificate Scheme.  Additional information on sanctions against diamonds from these countries can be found Office of Foreign Assets Control's Web site.  Additional information can also be obtained from the World Diamond Council.

Finally, a person wanted to know about buying ivory for his scrimshaw work and “coral” for jewelry.  He/she also wanted to know about using “fossil ivory” (Mammoth and Mastodons and relatives).

There has been a ban on ivory (elephant) importation since the late 1980s.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also notes the following are prohibited---see:;

  • All products made from sea turtles
  • All ivory, both Asian and African elephant
  • Rhinoceros horn and horn products
  • Furs from spotted cats
  • Furs and ivory from marine mammals
  • Feathers and feather products from wild birds
  • Most crocodile and caiman leather
  • Most coral, whether in chunks or in jewelry

In other words, Fish and Wildlife states: The United States generally prohibits the importation of ivory. Don’t bring home raw ivory or ivory jewelry, carvings, or figurines made from the tusks of either African or Asian elephants. Avoid raw or carved ivory from the teeth or tusks of walruses, whales, narwhals, and seals. 

A couple of decades ago I presented a paper on muskoxen at a University in Saskatoon.  While waiting in the airport I wandered through the gift shop and noted these “cute” little furry seal skin dolls.  I almost purchased one as they were popular among travelers.  A stroke of genius: the cute little dolls were confiscated by U.S. federal agents after entering the country (see list above).

There are also a host of regulations and questions revolving around selling and trading “antique” ivory chess sets, figurines, pianos, etc. that are personal items found in the home.  Answering questions about this sort of trade is beyond my pay grade so contact federal authorities.  With that noted, before you hide grandpa’s watch fob, realize that: federal wildlife laws and regulations such as CITES, the ESA, and the AfECA do not prohibit possessing or display of ivory, provided it was lawfully acquired. There is no certification requirement or process to register ivory items and you do not need a permit from the Service to possess or display ivory for noncommercial purposes. We (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) recommend that you maintain any records or documentation you have that demonstrates the origin and chain of ownership of the item. We recommend that you provide all documentation to any future recipient of your elephant ivory item. Check to make sure that you are also in compliance with local and state laws. Contact the state to check on their requirements.

But what about using Mammoth or Mastodon ivory?  I do note that “fossil ivory” is common at most rock and mineral shows; therefore, the trade must be legal.   Maybe, but then again, some states are starting to prohibit the sale/purchase of ivory from Mammoths (usually) or Mastodons.  According to the American Association of Paleontological Suppliers (AAPS), California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and New York have new laws banning the sale of “fossil ivory.”  For example, the Hawaii law states: (d) Except as authorized under section 183D-6, no person shall sell, offer to sell, purchase, trade, or barter for any part or product from mammoth (Mammuthus), although the species is extinct.

AAPS also notes ( that several other states are examining/constructing laws concerning the sale of “fossil ivory” ----

1. New Arizona; House Bill HB 2176 (Includes Mammoth Ivory and teeth), Introduced January 25, 2016, Died in Committee
2. Arkansas; Senate Bill 928 (Killed in Committee)
3. California; Assembly Bill No. 96 (Includes Mammoth Ivory), Passed the State Senate September 2, 2015, Passed the State Assembly September 4, 2015, Sent to the Governor for his signature. This act shall become operative on July 1, 2016
4. Connecticut; Proposed Bill No. 5700 (Vague definition of Ivory), Tabled for the Calendar, House May 5, 2015.
5. Florida; Senate Bill 1120 (Includes Mammoth Ivory), Died in Environmental Preservation and Conservation Location: In committee/council (EP), May 1, 2015.
6. Hawaii; Senate Bill 674 (Includes Mammoth Ivory), Currently in Committee, scheduled to become Effective 01/01/16. 7. Illinois; Senate Bill 1858 (Includes Mammoth Ivory), Currently in Committee, May 15, 2015.
8. Iowa; SF 30 (Includes Mammoth Ivory) In Sub-committee February 11, 2015.
9. Maryland; House Bill 713 (Vague definition of Ivory), Unfavorable Report by Judiciary, remains in Committee, March 16, 2015.

10. Massachusetts; House 1275 (Includes Mammoth Ivory) Remains in Committee January 20, 2015.
11. Nevada; Senate Bill 398 (Includes Mammoth Ivory) Remains in Committee, Pursuant to Joint Standing Rule No. 14.3.1, no further action allowed April 11, 2015.
12. Oklahoma; HB1787 (Vague definition of Ivory), Second Reading referred to Wildlife Committee February 3, 2015.
13. Rhode Island; House 5660 (Includes Mammoth Ivory) Committee recommended measure be held for further study, April 15, 2015.
14. Vermont; House 297 (Includes Mammoth Ivory), In Committee February 24, 2015; in Conference Committee 2016.

15. Washington; House Bill 1131 (Includes Mammoth Ivory) By resolution, reintroduced and retained in present status. June 28,2015.
16. Oregon; Senate Bill 913 (Includes Mammoth Ivory). Currently in Committee.

17. Delaware; Senate Bill 156 (Includes Mammoth Ivory) Senate Banking and Business Committee June 24, 2015.
18. Michigan; Senate Bill 371 (Includes Mammoth Ivory); in Committee.
19. Virginia; Senate Bill 1215 (Killed in Committee).

If I thought regulations concerning ivory were difficult to understand, I certainly was not prepared for “corals.”   The only thing I know about bringing dried pieces of coral into the U.S. came from an experience several years ago, (~10) when Fish and Wildlife (or some federal agency) removed small pieces of dried coral from my backpack as I was returning from a visit to the Caribbean.  “They” left behind a card stating that such items were not permitted into the U.S.  What I have now found from Fish and Wildlife is:  Coral species may be protected under international, domestic or even state environmental laws.  Black corals (Antipatharia) were listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1981.  In 1985, amidst concerns about the effects of commercial trade on fragile coral ecosystems, the CITES Parties listed all stony corals, blue corals (Helioporidae), organ pipe corals (Tubiporidae), and fire corals (Milleporidae)…  Lace corals (Stylasteridae) were later added… and China has listed 4 species of red coral…

Some coral species are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's (Service) Endangered Species Program page to learn more about these listings.

Each U.S. state may have separate regulations that control the harvest of coral within its waters. In addition, there are different regulations when handling wild-harvested or captive-bred coral. It is strongly recommended that you contact your state wildlife agency and the Service's Branch of Permits before importing or exporting coral.

What that all means is that I don’t have the slightest idea if you can bring coral into the U.S. for making jewelry!  Contact Fish and Wildlife.

As a bit of small trivia, do not try and bring the liquor Absinthe (anything containing Artemisia absinthium) into the U.S.  The only thing I know about the liquor is that cool guys and ladies drink the bitters in New Orleans.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enforces federal regulations on absinthe brought into the country. So, recognize their rules and realize your bottle may be seized if:
  • The absinthe is not "thujone-free."  Thujone is a chemical compound found in wormwood that acts on certain receptors in the brain.  I suppose the thujone-free stipulation is similar to some medicinal marijuana that has a very low content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive part of cannabis.  But that is only a guess.   
  • The bottle has "absinthe" as the brand name
  • The bottle has "artwork and/or graphics" that depicts "images of hallucinogenic, psychotropic or mind-altering effects."

Remembering my days as a Ranger leading field trips in the Uinta Basin, I note Artemisia species include A. vulgaris (common mugwort), A. tridentata (big sagebrush), A. annua (sagewort), A. absinthium (wormwood), A. dracunculus (tarragon), and A. abrotanum (southernwood).  I never tried to distill the abundant sagebrush!
Life-long learning needs to be fun and interesting!