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Pyrite Properties Facts and Photos

pyrite mineral in a museum display cabinet

1. Pyrite aka Fools Gold
2. What Exactly is Pyrite?
3. More Facts
4. Healing Properties
5. Article Photos
6. Our Collection of Pyrite

The Mineral Pyrite aka Fool's Gold

Pyrite also known as iron pyrite or fools gold can at a glance be mistaken for gold.  With that said, there are several characteristics which make it quite easy to tell one from the other.

The most obvious difference is the colour which is not quite as yellow as gold.  Pyrite is also lighter in weight and much harder.  Gold is surprisingly soft and grades just 2 to 2.5 on Mohs scale of mineral hardness.  That gives it a similar hardness to a fingernail.  Pyrite grades 6 to 6.5 which is much harder but it's also brittle.  

Strike a piece of gold with something heavy and it will become flatter.  Do the same to pyrite and it will break into many pieces.

These two minerals have a different crystal structure and different coloured streak.  Streak is the colour of a mineral in powdered form.  In pyrite it's greenish black, in gold it's yellow.

The name fool's gold is widely reported to have come about because during the great American gold rush pyrite was mistaken for gold.  Although the term may well have been used during this event, its use metaphorically and the words "fool's gold" go back much futher.

The following article comes from a book written about the mineral pyrite.  It begins on page 6 which you can jump to from the contents page. With this being a book it takes a few minutes to download but is worth the wait. 

In films involving pirates they would often be seen biting into a coin to confirm it was real gold.  This was almost certainly created for the big screen.  Whilst biting into pure gold may well leave teeth marks, biting a coin from this period would not have the same effect.  This is because coins were already being alloyed with another metal to improve hardness.

What Exactly is Pyrite?

Pyrite is an iron sulphide mineral which means it's a chemical compound of iron and sulphide.  It contains a high percentage of iron and is relatively common hence can be found in many geological environments. It comes in numerous forms which makes it particularly popular with mineral collectors.

Crystals of pyrite are often isometric which is cube shaped.  This crystal habit is one of the simplest and most common shapes found in crystals.

Faces can be striated which is another characteristic that distinguishes pyrite from gold.

Pyrite also crystallises in massive form.  This means crystals form one large mass so have no visible external shape or structure.

In the late 1970's deep sea hydrothermal vents were found on the bed of the ocean at depths never previously explored.  An entirely unique ecosystem with hundreds of new species were living around the vents.  Many were spewing out pyrite at temperatures as high as 400 degrees celsius.

chunk of the mineral iron pyrite

Photo; Ron Wolf

Ironically pyrite and gold form under very similar conditions.  They can even occur together within the same rock.  Inclusions of gold are not uncommon so pyrite could be used as an ore of gold but rarely is.  This is because there are many other more suitable minerals from which gold can be extracted. 

Although pyrite is a relatively common mineral which can be found worldwide, it generally only occurs in small quantities.

The Rio Tinto region of Spain has vast reserves.  Other countries including Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Japan, Canada and Italy to name just a few have also produced many fine specimens.

the mineral pyrite in a museum display cabinet

A Few More Facts

The name pyrite comes from the Greek word 'pyr' meaning fire.  When struck with a hard stone or steel tiny pieces break away which react with oxygen to create burning hot sparks.  This was one of the earliest methods used by man to create fire.

The wheel-lock gun developed around the year 1500 was ignited by spinning a spring-loaded steel wheel against a small piece of pyrite.  This generated sparks which ignited the gunpowder which ignited the charge in the gun's barrel.

Metaphysical Healing Properties

The metaphysical properties of pyrite revolve around strength, protection and energy.  Widely used for shielding purposes it blocks negative energy and prevents positive energy from escaping from the physical body and aura.

It strengthens confidence and masculinity and is said to be helpful for psychosomatic related issues.  The energy of pyrite stimulates enthusiasm, eases anxiety and helps combat frustration.  It's a great crystal to have on your desk because it prevents a sluggish mood, combats fatigue and energises the environment.

On a psychological level pyrite boosts self confidence and can help deal with an inferiority complex.  It accelerates mental activity, improves memory and mental recall.  Meditating with pyrite can help with low mood and depression.

Article Photos

Photographs 1 and 3 in this article were taken during visits to the Harvard Museum of Natural History and London's Natural History Museum.

All three photos are clickable and redirect to the original non-compressed image.

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