New Austria Update 08 March 2022

8 March 2022

OUR selection of minerals today is from Austria. This may be a first for us as we often combine Austria with neighbouring countries such as Germany, Italy and Switzerland, but not today! As would be expected, we include several typical Alpine minerals, but also an interesting selection of ore minerals, albeit these being rather attractive ore minerals, not just run-of-the-mill!

Given Austria’s setting in central Europe and a country defined by its spectacular mountain scenery, one might immediately anticipate a largely ancient geological province, but not so. Very little of Austria dates back to the Precambrian, this cut-off being around 541 million years ago. Admittedly, its Cambrian and Ordovician rocks are no spring chickens, but the few fragments of Pre-Cambrian continental crust are confined to the granites, mica schists and phyllites of mainly the Bohemian Massif. Much of Austria’s mineralisation occurs in Paleozoic, Mesozoic and some Cenozoic sediments, many having undergone regional and localised metamorphism.

Having already mentioned ore minerals, let’s begin with these. From its type locality of Bleiberg in Carinthia, acid-yellow to orange-yellow tabular Wulfenite crystals richly cover a creamy-white limestone. Bleiberg is an ancient lead-zinc mining area. This beautiful small cabinet specimen of Wulfenite is of outstanding colour and lustre. The Antimony Mine close to Stadtschlaining began operations in the 1700s, exploiting Stibnite-bearing hydrothermal veins of Tertiary age. This superb old-time cabinet specimen of interlocked Stibnite crystals, many to over 2.5 cm long, display asymmetric Roman sword-style terminations. The Stibnite crystals display various habits including bow-tie, curved blades and sudden changes in growth direction.

Siderite is an important ore of iron and the world’s largest deposit is at Polster in Styria, Austria’s second largest state. This ancient mine dates from around the end of the first millennium. From here we have a superb miniature of rich buttery-tan, rhombohedral crystals of Siderite with a single, gemmy, blood-red pseudo-hexagonal crystal of Cinnabar perched on top. The Cinnabar crystal measures 8 mm across and is 4 mm high and could easily be mistaken for a good vanadinite crystal!

Given Brixlegg, in the Austrian Tyrol, is a relatively small mining district, it is richly mineralised with almost 170 recorded species. One of the specimens we have from here is a lovely Azurite with Malachite which exhibits a fascinating morphology. A sparkling druse of deep blue crystalised Azurite covers botryoidal, minutely-banded green Malachite. The Malachite, which is combined with Tyrolite, forms a highly unusual cellular structure similar to that of a bath sponge. It is an amazing structure of interconnected cellular pores which surround the central crystallised mass of Azurite.

Another and rather spectacular Siderite is from Knappenberg in Carinthia, a superbly crystallised large cabinet specimen of golden-tan crystals forming a patchwork of contrasting matt and reflective crystallised areas. The crystals are fractal-like in that each crystal, then group of crystals, is a subset of a similar, larger group, repeated up to the largest.

It’s always exciting to include a gemstone of some kind and today we have an Aquamarine variety of Beryl. From the Habach Valley in Salzburg state, the crystals are an unusual colour for Aquamarine, being light-greenish smoky blue. Up to 1.5 cm long by as much as 0.6 cm broad, the translucent hexagonal crystals form a rich 8 cm long band over a mica-schist matrix.

While in Austria, we are obliged to mention a few Alpine minerals, first a Rutile from the Rauris Valley in Salzburg. This fine cabinet specimen of red to dark maroon Rutile crystals range from micro to 6 mm, with many displaying knee-joint twinning. Many crystals are abundantly scattered over a white crystalline druse of 1 mm Feldspar crystals. These follow the strong foliation of an underlying Mica Schist, so giving a delicately ribbed and attractive surface.

Alpine minerals have to include Quartz and this specimen of Rock Crystal is from the Brenner Pass area in North Tyrol. A gemmy, ice-clear group of intergrown Quartz crystals measuring up to 3.5 cm form a radial cluster with a flattened base, all of which is largely transparent and with no matrix. The Quartz crystals exhibit several crystal habits with different prism and termination developments making this a terrific specimen for both study and display. Next, how about a lustrous glassy lime-green Titanite with crystals up to 1.5 cm scattered over a strongly foliated matrix of sub-mm, snow-white Adularia crystals from Untersulzbachtal in the Hohe Tauern National Park.

Other super specimens include a deep duck-egg blue, botryoidal Aragonite from Brixlegg; Bindheimite and Malachite pseudomorphs after Bournonite from Hüttenberg; a fabulous Tetrahedrite from Schwaz and a stunning bi-pyramidal octahedral crystal of golden-butterscotch orange Scheelite, measuring 2.3 cm from Hiefelwand.

Focusing on just one country provides a more balanced snapshot of its mineralogical diversity, despite only amounting to 21 specimens in any given update. We will be doing the same for Germany this Friday and already in our sights are Scotland and Wales. Explore the Austrian scene further by using the hyperlinks where you will see even more specimens and discover further details on each. See you Friday. PT


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Author: JH
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