Crystals, Rocks, Minerals, What Exactly Are They?

What exactly is a crystal, rock and a mineral?  This is something that many people struggle to answer when asked and I hope this article makes things a little clearer.  As someone who has no specific qualifications in this field but who is genuinely passionate about it, I have tried to keep this article interesting and have written it in a way which I hope you’ll find easy to understand.

During a recent trip to London’s Natural History Museum, I spent almost three hours looking at crystals, rocks and minerals and would have gladly spent another three hours doing so had it not been for the fact that my companion found the exhibits exceptionally boring. Whilst I fully appreciate that rocks and minerals may not be the most exciting objects to look at in a museum, for me they’re the main attraction.  People love looking at sparkly gems and diamonds and wherever they’re displayed you’ll find hoards of people but minerals on the other hand, can for some be visually uninteresting and their primary purpose is to demonstrate the Earth’s mineral-forming processes and the varying arrangements of atoms which is why the mineralogy section of a museum is almost always empty.

Despite not being overly popular, crystals, rocks and minerals are the building blocks of our planet and they’ve been collected, used and enjoyed by humans since the dawn of time. During my travels around the world in search of rough and polished minerals to buy for my business, Stone Mania, I always take a day out to visit a museum and have over the last twenty years or so, seen some truly magnificent collections.  Although we’re surrounded by rocks and minerals in one form or another almost every day of our lives, trying to explain exactly what they are is no easy task.

The study of crystals is known as crystallography, the study of rocks is petrology, minerals is mineralogy and gems is gemmology. Geology is the study of the Earth, its history, the rocks of which it’s constructed, their structure, where they came from, how they have changed over time and how they continue to change.  These subject matters are all related to science and the one thing they all have in common, is crystals, rocks and minerals but what exactly are these strange inanimate objects?

Minerals are made up of naturally occurring solids which are inorganic meaning they do not contain any living matter.  To be correctly classified as a mineral it must also be crystalline which means it contains a microscopic and well ordered arrangement of atoms that form a repeating three dimensional crystal lattice which makes up a solid body known and that’s known as a crystal. The specific arrangement of atoms is known as the crystal structure and the process of crystal formation and its subsequent growth, is called crystallization.  Crystals can be large enough to be seen with the naked eye or so minute that they can only be seen through a powerful microscope but irrespective of size, they all have one thing in common which is they’re all made up of a symmetrical, three-dimensional arrangements of atoms.  Crystals are classified according to their individual crystal structure because the manner in which atoms are arranged in a crystal, is not always the same.

Some minerals have the ability to crystallize in more than one way and the result of a different crystal structure will be a different mineral.  For example pyrite and marcasite are both identical in that they’re iron sulphide (iron and sulphur) minerals but the one you end up with totally depends on which crystal structure is present.

When a mineral-like substance is not crystalline (lacking crystal structure), it’s more correctly known as a mineraloid and examples include amber, jet (a very compact form of coal), shungite, opal and pearl to name just a few.

Most minerals are chemical compounds which means they’re made up of two or more chemical elements.  A chemical element is a substance which contains just one type of atom, if more than one is present it’s known as a compound. An element can either be a solid, a liquid or gas.  Although most minerals contain two or more chemical elements some such as copper, sulfur, gold and silver occur as a single element meaning they only have one type of atom.

The exact number of minerals which are known varies from 2,722 to 6,500 depending on the reference that you read.  Some of the most common which are found in rocks at the Earth’s surface include quartz, feldspar, mica and olivine.

Rocks can be made up of either a single mineral or a variety of different ones and unlike minerals, they do not have a fixed composition or an ordered arrangement of atoms (crystal structure). Certain minerals and groups of minerals are present in some rocks in greater abundance than in others and a few contain no minerals at all. Coal is classified as a rock yet it’s made up purely of decayed vegetation. Rocks are classified into three different groups, igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic and together they form the building blocks for our planet.

Igneous rocks are formed when molten rock or magma solidifies and they’re either classified as extrusive or intrusive depending on whether the magma had emerged onto the Earth’s surface or not before crystallizing.  Magma and lava is exactly the same the only difference being magma is molten rock beneath the Earth’s surface and once it’s been spewed out by a volcano, it becomes known as lava.

Basalt and granite are both igneous rocks, basalt makes up the vast majority of the ocean floor and is produced through the eruption of underwater volcanoes, granite is formed by magma which solidifies deep underground and makes up the majority of the continental crust which is the layer of rock that forms the continents. Some granite in Australia is believed to be four billion years old however rocks of this age are difficult to date accurately because of the extent that they’ve been altered by the environment. Obsidian is also an igneous rock which is natural volcanic glass and forms when lava solidifies so rapidly that crystals do not have a chance to grow hence it’s not crystalline (no crystal structure present) so is correctly identified as a mineraloid.

Metamorphic rocks are formed when intense heat and pressure changes the composition and arrangement of minerals within an existing rock and the process may also change its appearance and texture. Metamorphic rocks do not melt, they undergo a physical change due to extreme heat and pressure. Rocks that melt go on to form igneous rocks.  Garnet is a mineral that’s produced through the metamorphism of basalt and marble is produced through the metamorphism of sandstone which is a sedimentary rock.

Once rocks and minerals are exposed to the Earth’s surface they begin to weather and erode and in doing so, they break down leaving nothing more than sediments.  Over time these sediments are carried mainly by water and as they’re redistributed, a process known as cementation takes place and over time, sedimentary rocks begin to form.  The structure of a sedimentary rock is usually layered and will often include fossils which are the remains of marine plants and animals. Some of the best known sedimentary rocks include sandstone, rock salt, clay and limestone.

So in brief, crystals are made up of repeating groups of atoms and are the basis for minerals, minerals make up rocks which are grouped into three main types and rocks are the building blocks of the incredible planet that we live on.

To view our collection of crystals, rocks and minerals, why not drop by and have a browse through our website, Stone Mania.

Articles on the Internet

Trying to find decent articles about crystals, rocks and minerals online can be a real challenge because so much of what your read on some mainstream websites is repetitive, unoriginal and in many cases, not even factual.  I research extensively in preparation for the articles I write on crystals, rocks and minerals for Stone Mania and have been doing so for a very, very long time.  One thing that has become apparent over the years is that people love using other people’s work and having tweaked it slightly, truly believe they can pass it off as their own.  In many cases the information that’s been copied is not even factual which has led to an explosion of inaccurate articles being published online especially in relation to rocks, minerals and in particular gemstones.

If you want to be sure that something you’ve read online is accurate, cross reference the information with a respected website, we tend to use four or five but our two favourites are Wikipedia and Geology.com  Alternatively try to find an article that has been written by an expert in that subject matter but admittedly unlike mainstream websites, they can be a little more difficult to find and you usually stumble across them when you least expect to. Specialist discussion forums can also be an invaluable source of information and if you can’t find the answer you’re looking for, you can always post a question.  Most forums have members with a vast amount of knowledge in a particular subject so it’s unlikely, certainly on the subject of crystals, rocks and minerals, not to be able to find the answer that you’re looking for or to get clarification on whether something is factual or not.

When Google first made it known that writing articles to post online contributed to search engine ranking, articles started popping up all over the place and whilst that certainly helped build the internet into what it is today, it also meant that a huge amount of copying was going on.  You could even pay someone to write an article for you but generally the end result was low quality, generic and repetitive and often it was blatantly obvious that its sole purpose was to improve search engine ranking.  I have to say that having had a few articles written for Stone Mania on crystals, rocks and minerals by different companies, they all turned out to be utter rubbish and were never used and I even refused to pay for them.

It’s really important to emphasize that there are some truly excellent articles to read on crystals, rocks and minerals but sadly, there’s also far too many that are really not worth reading at all.  Many unfortunately are works that have been copied and reproduced to make them appear to be original but having read exactly the same information so many times before, you don’t need to be Einstein to see that they’re really not original pieces of work.  The practice of stealing someone else’s material to use as your own is known as plagiarism and sadly, it’s rife across the internet.  Google has become wise to this in recent years and takes the problem very seriously but despite making various amendments to their algorithm, it’s not a problem that’s going to be easy to eradicate.

A few years ago if you put something into Google which related to crystals, rocks or minerals such as, “Turquoise comes from the French, pierre turquoise meaning turkish stone”, that exact line of text would appear in page after page of search results on hundreds of different websites.  We all have different ways of writing and expressing ourselves so it’s pretty unlikely that so many people would write a line of text in exactly the same way so it was clear the text was being taken from one source, only to be used in another. Thankfully this rarely happens nowadays not only because Google’s algorithm has changed so it searches in a completely different way but also because it has become wise to the issue of plagiarism and is trying to address the problem as best as it can.  That certainly doesn’t mean text is no longer being copied, it just means people are being much more careful.  It’s common knowledge that if you want a page that you publish to rank well, it must be original so significant changes are now being made to material that’s been plagiarized.  The problem with this however is that if not done carefully and by someone with a thorough knowledge of the subject matter, the article may end up having a completely different meaning and will likely also lose much of its accuracy.

There are more articles online about amethyst than I care to imagine which is great because it’s a fascinating and interesting gemstone to read about but unfortunately, some of what’s been written is not accurate and in some cases bears little or no truth at all.  Amethyst is the purple variety of the mineral quartz whose colour is caused by trace impurities of iron and manganese, this statement is factual and can be written or incorporated into an article in many different ways depending on who the author is.  If Google detects that it appears on multiple websites written verbatim and also finds additional text in the same article that is also repeated, it’s highly likely that the page will be penalized.  Facts are facts and Google recognizes that but it soon becomes clear when information is being copied, even if it has been changed.

Another example which demonstrates how inaccurate information can spread like wildfire relates to a myth that was written by French Poet Remy Belleau and published a year before his death in 1576:

“Bacchus (Roman name for Dionysus, Greek God of wine) was pursuing a maiden named Amethyste who refused his affections. Amethyste prayed to the gods to remain chaste, a prayer which the goddess Diana answered, transforming her into a white stone. Humbled by Amethyste’s desire to remain chaste, Bacchus poured wine over the stone as an offering, dyeing the crystals purple”

Although written in the 15th century, many articles online and even in a book that we have in our collection called ‘Guide to Gems’, state that it comes from Greek mythology which is not correct and furthermore, as the passage has continually been rewritten, it has changed considerably and in some cases is not even recognizable as the same text.  Several variations have also popped up and they too claim to be from Greek mythology.  This is one of the most popular:

“Dionysus had been insulted by a mortal and swore to slay the next who crossed his path creating fierce tigers to carry out his wrath. The mortal turned out to be a beautiful young woman named Amethystos who was on her way to pay tribute to Artemis (Goddess of virginity and protector of young girls). Her life was spared by Artemis who transformed the maiden into a statue of pure crystalline quartz to protect her from the brutal claws. Dionysus wept tears of wine in remorse for his action at the sight of the beautiful statue. The God’s tears subsequently stained the quartz purple.

Despite being a heart warming tale it is just that and is neither factual or a myth from Greek mythology.  The only reference to amethyst in historical text relates to a stone that was given to Dionysus by the titan Rhea in order to preserve the wine-drinker’s sanity.

The original myth as written by Remy Belleau is quite difficult to find and what people who want to use it as part of their article on amethyst don’t understand, is that they should be quoting it as historical text using citations instead of trying to reword it to try and keep it unique for the benefit of Google. As a result there are hundreds of versions online many of which lack accuracy and with regards to the longer version, not only does it bear no historical value, but there’s little or no proof of where it even came from.

Historical text should always be quoted instead of being rewritten and citations used to show readers that it has come from another source.  Citations should also be used whenever something is quoted, paraphrased, if you use an idea that has come from someone else and when a reference is made to someone else’s work.  They should even be put in place when something has been used to develop your own ideas.  The purpose of a “citation” is to make it clear to the reader that something has come from another source and it also enables them to refer to that work should they wish to.  Using citations in an article is completely acceptable and not considered by Google to be plagiarism nor does it detract from the originality of the article.

Some of the worse culprits of plagiarism are people who manage an online business because its success is largely reliant on Google.  In order for potential customers to find a website, it must rank well so articles are often churned out on a regular basis and lengthy descriptions written adjacent to products being offered for sale both of which help improve search engine ranking.

The purpose of this article is to highlight that not everything that’s published online is accurate and especially with regards to crystals, rocks and minerals.  A large amount of what’s available to read has simply been written with the sole purpose of increasing search engine ranking and not everyone goes to the lengths required to ensure that what they are writing is factual or accurate.  In many cases articles are written hastily or by someone with little or no knowledge of the subject matter hence the minimum amount of research is done in order to find suitable and adequate material to use.

From the perspective of an online business and someone with plenty of experience writing articles to publish online, I would recommend that citations be used where relevant and if ever you’re not sure whether something is factual or not, make that very clear in your article.  Sometimes it is difficult to confirm whether something is true and that’s fine but never take it for granted that it is without having hard evidence to back it up.  If in doubt leave it out or make it clear that you’re not able to find evidence to support what you have said, it’s better to be truthful than to put your name to something that’s simply not true.   Remember that once an article has been published online it’s likely to be around for a very, very long time and what may initially seem like a well written and original article, may over time begin to have a negative impact on the page or website that you’re trying to promote.