Cassiterite – Day 5 of the Mineral Advent Calendar

This holiday season, why not get a mineral every day instead of chocolate? Today’s mineral is Cassiterite find out more about it below..
One of the most obvious signs of the season is the number of church based carol  services that you get invited to – and if you are in a church you are probably enjoying the dulcet tones of a full pipe organ.

 

Even the fox at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) is excited about the holidays!!

Organ pipes provide the backing to some of our favourite seasonal music! (Image from Wikipedia)

Organ pipes provide the backing to some of our favourite seasonal music! (Image from Wikipedia)

 

Organ pipes are made with tin, a metal that you get from the mineral ore cassiterite. In one of the best museums in Devon, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) you can come and handle museum specimens found locally and talk to volunteers like me! We have a lovely sample of cassiterite at  Local Finds table that you can come and have a close look at!

 

Lovely Casserite specimen sample from the Royal Albert Memorial Musuem's Local Finds handling table.

Lovely Casserite specimen sample from the Royal Albert Memorial Musuem’s Local Finds handling table.

Cassiterite:

Chemical formula: SnO2
Colour: Black, yellow, brown, red or white.
System: Tetragonal
Hardness (Mohs): 6 – 7
Can you find it in the UK? Yes

Location of Cassiterite in the UK from the MinDat Website

Location of Cassiterite in the UK from the MinDat Website

Cassiterite is such an important mineral for the UK that large portions of the nations wealth were based up on it in the last thousand years. Tin streaming, a mineral collection activity practiced throughout the human occupation of Britain, developed into tin mining mainly based in Cornwall and was a one of the central sources of the county’s income. There is even a saying based around the importance of tin and copper mining:

Cornishmen are fishermen, Cornishmen are miners too.
When all the fish and tin are gone, what are Cornishmen to do?

For more information about Cassiterite please visit the MinDat website.

Advertisements

The Natural History Museum, Vienna

Whilst in Vienna I had a number of recommendations as to things that I should try and see during the conference. My mother, the art historian, suggested The Belvedere to see the Klimt paintings. My father, the hospitality expert, suggested visiting a Viennese coffee house. My supervisor, the experienced EGU delegate, suggested the Hundertwasserhaus (knowing that I appreciate interesting architecture). But the sad reality of going to a conference in a new city is that as much as you may want to explore the city itself, there is so much happening at the conference that you can hardly tear yourself away from that one building. That is what happened with me and EGU – with one exception, the Natural History Museum (or Naturhistorisches Museum Wien -NHMW).

A lovely sunny day - to spend in a Museum. Yeah I'm a nerd.

A lovely sunny day – to spend in a Museum. Yeah I’m a nerd.

Now as a former employee of the NHM in London I have a strong appreciation for a good museum and the NHMW Vienna had been recommended to me by a few different people. To be honest, if I could only visit one thing in any city – a museum would probably win. So one afternoon, when I had a two hour gap, I hopped on the train to the Museums Quarter. The first thing I noticed was that the building itself was beautiful – but in the process of being cleaned. Half of it, therefore, was obscured by scaffolding. Luckily the museum opposite, the Museum of Art History (or Kunsthistorisches Museum) was uncovered and in a mirror image represented what the NHMW would normally look like.

The Museum of Art History

The Museum of Art History

The NHMW was guarded by ths cute little elephant!

The NHMW was guarded by ths cute little elephant!

 

 

 

 

 

 

It cost €5 to get in (with a student discount) but that included entry to a special exhibition on Extinction. The Museum is divided between two levels, which can roughly divided into Life Sciences upstairs and Earth Sciences downstairs. One of the sections was closed for refurbishment; the human evolution and anthropology galleries, but to be honest, with only two hours, I couldn’t have done them justice anyway.

IT WAS FANTASTIC!!!!!

Below are a few photos to show just some of the brilliant things about this Museum, but there are so many more!

One great thing for me was that most signs were in German and English.

One great thing for me was that most signs were in German and English.

Just your average dinosaur gallery?

Just your average dinosaur gallery?

Not quite! Little details actually jumped out at you!

Not quite! Little details actually jumped out at you!

And they get extra points for having a feathered Deinonychus model!

And they get extra points for having a feathered Deinonychus model!

They have beautiful victorian display cabinets...

They have beautiful victorian display cabinets…

But even those are not always quite as they seem...

But even those are not always quite as they seem…

He is getting away!!!

He is getting away!!!

Dioramas were used to fantastic effect...

Dioramas were used to fantastic effect…

And objects were placed together that gave you new insight - look at the tiny white brain of this whale!

And objects were placed together that gave you new insight – look at the tiny white brain of this whale!

They even won prizes for their taxidermy and display - who knew you even could!?!

They even won prizes for their taxidermy and display – who knew you even could!?!

Every part of the building had been thought about. Even the windows were illustrated with microfossil drawings to emphasise their beauty.

Every part of the building had been thought about. Even the windows were illustrated with microfossil drawings to emphasise their beauty.

And the figures around the ceiling were just spectacular! And in case you were wondering - yes this does appear to be someone wrestling a pterodactyl next to someone with an icthyosaur tucked under their arm.

And the figures around the ceiling were just spectacular! And in case you were wondering – yes this does appear to be someone wrestling a pterodactyl next to someone with an icthyosaur tucked under their arm.

"*sigh* being a figurehead is SO TIRING. I'm just going to lean on this huge crystal conveniently covering my groin..."

“*sigh* being a figurehead is SO TIRING. I’m just going to lean on this huge crystal conveniently covering my groin…”

There were so many specimens...

There were so many specimens…

That I simply did not have time to see them all.

That I simply did not have time to see them all.

But one thing is clear....

But one thing is clear….

NHMW - I will be back!

NHMW – I will definitely be back!!!

 

Did you know you live on an ancient desert?!

On Saturday I was in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter (RAMM) helping to run a specimen handling collection called ‘Local Finds’. It’s a great initiative that brings objects out from the collections of the Museum and makes them available to the public to handle and explore on their own terms, with someone who knows or loves the objects there to talk with the visitor about them. As a volunteer working with the specimens you can choose which mini-collection to work with; animal bones, hand axes (flint tools), seashore items, ceramics, or geology. I, obviously, chose the geology one – both because I know a bit about the specimens selected and I LOVE talking to people about geology (come on it’s awesome!)!!

Local Finds at RAMM

A selection of some of the objects you can handle at RAMM in Exeter.

There are a number of really interesting objects in the geology tray – a lump of cassiterite (a tin bearing mineral that miners in the southwest have searched for for hundreds of years), a piece of pre-victorian slag (or industrial waste – the remains of metal smelting) a bit of limestone with loads of fossils in it, a selection of fossilised shells and invertebrates, and a coprolite. Now for those of you who don’t know, a coprolite is fossilised poo. Additionally, as anyone who has ever talked to children about trace fossils (those fossils that are left behind by the creature, but not the actual remains of the creature – footprints, burrows, tooth marks etc) will know, a piece of fossilised poo is one of the most entertaining things to engage children with about geology and can really highlight how much the child (or adult) knows about fossils. For example, one of the people I spoke to was a little girl, about 8 or 9 years old, who homed in on the fossils on my table like a shark in the water! Picking up the coprolite she said:

Girl: What’s this?

Me: What do you think it is? (again – a science communicator’s favourite question – if in doubt ask this!!)

Girl: Is it a fossil?

Me: It is, what made you think that?

Girl: Um I dunno, it looks like a fossil.

{Interlude – a bit of dancing around what it looked like and what kind of fossil it might be eventually lead us to…}

Me: Well it’s not a normal fossil, clearly and it was found in Lyme Regis. Does that give you any clues, have you been there?

Girl: Oh, is it a coprolite?

{Mum looks over in amazement}

Me: That’s right!

Girl’s little sister: What is a coprolite?

Girl: It’s a fossil poo!!

{Mum looks even more amazed, whilst girls giggle over fossil poo and have a smell to see if it is still smelly, which they eventually decide it’s not, because ‘it’s really old and has become a rock’}

Me: So it’s a fossil poo, from what creature?

Girl: A pliosaur?

At this point the girls’ mother comes over and really gets involved with the interaction. We work out that because the coprolite has scales in it (probably from fish) and because of it’s size, it’s likely from an ichthyosaur rather than a pliosaur. The girls move off to speak to my colleague about some animal bones and I get chatting with the Mum. It turns out she comes from Torquay, near me, and she mentions how she doesn’t always know what to do with her girls’ interest in science – she doesn’t really feel confident in encouraging them and so is frequently surprised by how much they know. She gave the impression that she loves how much they obviously enjoy science, but doesn’t know how best to support them. Luckily Torquay is in the middle of a Geopark – a kind of area of celebration about geology, because it’s really fabulously interesting! Trust me.

The English Riviera Geopark

The Geopark has lots of aspects – this is a geo-themed playpark; where was this when I was a kid?! Jealous.

This lead to a discussion of some of the best things to see and do in Torquay if you are into geology, but also made me have a bigger idea. If you could share two geological ideas about your area with someone who is interested, but isn’t sure how to find more, what would they be? For me, Torbay (my immediate area) has two really big selling points. First our sand on the beach is red. Like  a bright ochery orange. I didn’t realise how strange this was as I’ve grown up with it, but some friends who visited me recently were amazed – red sand!

This for me was awesome geo-idea about Torbay number 1

Red sands of Torbay

The red sands of Torbay, ok it’s a sunny day which bleaches them out a bit, but you get the idea.

Torbay used to be a desert. A really big desert. And it was a desert for a long time – about 40 million years – from 290 million years ago to 248 million years ago! This for me is one of the great things about sedimentary rocks, you just think about where in the world, today, would you find materials like what the rock is made from and you have a good idea of the environment that existed when the rock started to form. So I was talking to this lady about geology in Torquay and we started talking about the red sand and where else in the world do you see red sand? The Sahara Desert! So by using the idea above, she got the idea that she was living on an ancient desert!

But one idea is not enough, the next idea followed on from this by moving from taking the familiar and realising something unfamiliar, to finding something familiar in a place you would never expect.

Awesome geo-idea about Torbay number 2….

Gold from Hope’s Nose © Ian Jones

There’s gold in them there hills! Yes it’s true. Whilst most of Torbay is characterised by the Red Sandstone rocks deposited during the desert locked Permian Age, the very tip of Torquay headland is limestone, laid down in a warm shallow sea many years before in the Devonian Age (Devon-Devonian, right?). This part of Torbay is called Hope’s Nose. Now aside from a wealth of small fossils, shells, corals and the like, there are a lot of interesting minerals that can be found at Hope’s Nose. Some of these minerals are so unusual that the area has been legally protected and designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (so the motto if you want to visit is look but don’t touch any minerals you see). One of these unusual mineral is in fact, gold. A strange form of dendritic (meaning plant like) gold has been discovered, right here, in the English Riviera! Now let’s be realistic, it was a very small amount, but it existed – and surely thats exciting? I wonder how many school children in the bay know that one of the most sought after substances in the world may still lie in tiny amounts, right under their noses?! Not to mention brand new mineral discoveries like Chrisstanleyite!

So those are my two favourite ideas about Torbay, an area often shunned by geo-enthusiasts for her flashier coastal neighbour Lyme Regis, or more austere inland aunt Dartmoor, but fascinating to me.

What about you, does your local area have hidden geo-gems?

References:

Paar et al (1998) A new mineral, chrisstanleyite, Ag2Pd3Se4, from Hope’s Nose, Torquay, Devon, England

Russell (1929) On the occurence of native gold at Hope’s Nose, Torquay, Devonshire

Stanley, Criddle and Lloyd (1990) Precious and base metal selenide mineralisation at Hope’s Nose, Torquay, Devon

Warrington and Scrivener (1990) The Permian of Devon, England