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Pyrite also Known as Fools Gold

 

 

The mineral pyrite on display in the Harvard Museum of Natural History

 

 

The Mineral Pyrite | Properties and Meaning


Pyrite also known as iron pyrite or fools gold is a natural mineral which can at a glance resemble gold but there are several characteristics which make it quite easy to differentiate one from the other.  The most obvious is colour which is not as yellow as gold but pyrite is also lighter in weight and much harder.  Gold is a surprisingly soft metal which grades just 2 to 2½ on Mohs scale of mineral hardness which is about the same as a human fingernail.  Pyrite however grades 6 to 6½ but it's brittle so will shatter easily. 

If you hammer a piece of gold it will flatten but do the same to iron pyrite and it will break into hundreds of pieces.  The two minerals also have a different crystal structure and different coloured streak which is the term used to describe the colour of a mineral in powdered form.  In pyrite the streak is greenish black whereas in gold, it‘s yellow.

The name fool's gold is widely reported to have come about because it's said that during the great American gold rush pyrite was often confused for gold.  Having done extensive research to try and establish whether there was any truth to the story, we have not been able to find anything factual to support it.  Apart from it not being mentioned once in the entire history of this historical event, it really is quite easy to distinguish one from the other particularly when the two minerals are placed side by side.  Furthermore anyone who would have been prospecting for gold at this time would almost certainly have known exactly what they were looking for.

In many Hollywood films involving pirates they would often be seen biting into a gold coin to confirm that it was real but this was almost certainly created for the big screen.  Whilst biting down on pure gold may well leave teeth marks, biting a coin from this period in time would not have the same effect because coins were alloyed with another metal so would have been considerably harder.      

 

 

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 and varieties and is popular with mineral collectors and for use in alternative therapies such as crystal healing.  Crystals are often cubic also known as isometric which is one of the simplest and most common shapes found in crystals and minerals.  Faces can be striated which is another feature that distinguishes pyrite from gold.  It can also occur in massive form which means its formation is one large mass hence the structure of each individual crystal is not visible.

 

 

chunk of the mineral iron pyrite


Pyrite. Photo; Ron Wolf

 

 

Ironically pyrite and gold form under very similar conditions and can even occur together within the same rock.  Inclusions of gold are not uncommon which means that pyrite could be used as an ore of gold but rarely is because there are many other more suitable minerals from which this precious metal 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 but other countries including Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Japan, Canada and Italy to name just a few have also produced many fine specimens.

 

 

pyrite mineral on display in a cabinet in the London Natural History Museum

 

 

A Few More Facts


The name pyrite originates from the Greek word pyr meaning fire because when struck against metal or another hard surface it sparks.  This was one of the earliest methods used by man to create fire.  Interestingly the wheel-lock gun developed around the year 1500 was ignited by spinning a spring-loaded steel wheel against a small piece of pyrite in order to generate sparks.  The sparks then ignited the gunpowder which in turn ignited the charge in the gun's barrel.

In crystal healing pyrite is used as an energy shield to block negative energy and to prevent energy escaping from the physical body and aura.  It also strengthens confidence in masculinity and is said to be helpful for psychosomatic related issues. 

Photographs 1 and 3 in this article were taken by Stone Mania during visits to the Harvard Museum of Natural History and London's Natural History Museum.  All three photographs on this page are clickable and redirect to the original full size image.

 

 

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