Quartz crystal from Arkansas

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Having had an interest in crystals and minerals for many years (more than I care to remember!) you can imagine it was a thrill to visit the state of Arkansas during a trip to the USA.  Arkansas is a beautiful state – almost in the centre of country.  Our journey took us across different landscapes, desert, prairie, plains, to the forests of Arkansas.

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Acres upon acres of forests, mountains and lakes make Arkansas a picturesque state.  As well as quartz mining, Arkansas is known for hunting and fishing, timber production and, in the southern region of the state, plantations.

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I could fill pages with descriptions of the scenery, places to visit, lifestyle of the inhabitants of some of the towns and cities, as this blog is called ‘Crystal Clear’, I’ll restrict myself to writing at this point about the quartz from Arkansas.  The following paragraphs will, I hope, give you an insight into the history and traditions of quartz from Arkansas.

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Quartz crystal is probably the crystal most people are aware of.  Quartz (SiO2) is composed of silicon and oxygen and is common throughout the world, although most of it is not crystallised. Crystallisation occurs when the silicon dioxide or silica is heated. T he source of the heat can be extremely hot water from underground sources, which fills open fissures to create filled quartz veins.  In Arkansas, this reaction is estimated to have occurred during the last part of the formation of the Ouachita Mountains, about 280 to 245 million years ago.  During the cooling, the silicon and the oxygen recombined as molecules formed by one silicon atom and four oxygen atoms.  The crystals have six sides or prism faces because of their molecular structure. Quartz is rated seven on the Mohs hardness scale; diamonds are rated ten.  Some quartz exists in sand form.

Arkansas is one of a small number of places in the world with enough quartz crystals to justify commercial mining. Though the amount of unmined quartz in the state is not yet known, Arkansas does have, in terms of both size and quality, some world-class deposits of quartz. Quartz is a common mineral that becomes crystallised under extreme geologic pressure. These crystals have been used to make oscillators for radios, computer chips, and clocks. In 1967, the General Assembly adopted the quartz crystal as the Arkansas State Mineral.

The existence of quartz crystal in the Ouachita Mountains has been known since humans first occupied the area.  In the 16th Century, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto led an expedition deep into the continent we now know as the United States and found that native Americans had chipped projectile points from quartz crystals.  De Soto died at the age of 46 in Arkansas.  In 1819, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, naturalist and explorer wrote, ‘One of the most noted localities of this mineral west of the Mississippi River is the Hot Springs of Ouachita in Arkansas.  At this place numerous pieces of quartz have been found, very pure and transparent, and beautifully crystallized…”  Crystal mining in Arkansas was well established by the late 19th century.

The ancient Ouachita Mountain area of Arkansas was considered a mystical location by Native American tribes. The hot springs in the “Valley of the Vapors,” now the city of Hot Springs, was considered a place of peace for even warring Indian tribes. The beautiful Arkansas quartz crystals of the Ouachitas were believed by the Indians to have sacred and spiritual significance.

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Few restrictions or legal problems hindered the early miners, even though most crystal deposits were on land owned by either the Federal Government or private timber companies.  The general rule was that as long as timber was left undamaged and openings did not become pitfalls for livestock, the miner was free to dig where he dropped his pick and “scratcher” (an iron rod, commonly 1 to 2 feet in length and bent at a right angle several inches from the point, used to scratch out loose crystals).  During World War II the high demand for quality quartz crystals for use in oscillators for radio and communication equipment resulted in a rapid expansion of prospecting and mining.  With Federal agencies and private mining companies participating, mining rights received more careful scrutiny and free-for-all operations dwindled.  A buying station at Hot Springs was established in June of 1943. About 75 percent of the oscillator quartz mined in the district during this year, amounting to more than 4,000 pounds, was tested at this station.

During the 1950’s, techniques were developed by General Electric company for growing quartz artificially and the demand for Arkansas quartz was mostly limited to the expanding tourist and museum markets.

Some crystals were cut and faceted and used for jewellery – known as ‘Hot Springs diamonds’.

Quartz crystals are also valued for their beauty as mineral specimens and gemstones.  With the increased demand by tourists, collectors and museums, the price for quartz crystals has risen in recent years, and some exquisitely developed quartz clusters are reportedly highly valued.

If you’ve got this far, thank you for reading this blog.  You now know a little more about the quartz crystals from Arkansas.

Lizzy Clark

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