Rock Hunting Galena, a Heavy Metal
Personally, I think Galena would be a great name for a heavy metal band. Of course, that’s in a perfect world where more than geologists and rock hounds would get the joke. Galena is a sulfide mineral and the most common mineral ore of lead. There are certainly other types of lead minerals. An early collecting trip with a geologist friend was to an old mining prospect in Pennsylvania, looking for a mineral named plumbojarosite. This stands out in my mind because I recall thinking how ridiculous it would sound if someone happened by and I was forced to explain that I was looking for something called plumbojarosite. For the record, I still have no idea what plumbojarosite looks like, but what I did find was small samples of galena and I have been intrigued with this lead mineral ever since.
Lead in general has been in the news and usually for bad reasons as an environmental pollutant. However, the mineral galena is an important economic mineral and has been for centuries. Dangerous when consumed. Useful when mined. This love-hate relationship with lead goes at least as far back as the Roman Empire’s mines and possibly further into prehistory. Empires both political and economic were raised on mountains of lead ore.
Some of my own ancestors worked in the Leadville Mining District of Colorado. The name Leadville is a bit of a giveaway for a district which may have produced enough lead ore to smelt into more than one million tons of processed lead. A quick web search of the mineral name galena gives further evidence of lead’s importance by revealing at least 17 towns and places named Galena in the USA alone.
Whether personal hereditary inclination or a love of the historic, finding the silver-gray sulfide mineral galena has always been a treat both in its dense massive form or more rarely with blocky octahedral crystals. That silvery flash in a tailings pile is always just as exciting. From New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and down to the ghost town of Shakespeare, New Mexico, galena is always a welcome find.
Scott Stepanski is a mineral collector and co-author of Gem Trails of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He also produces the world’s largest selection of mineral and fossil rubber stamps at http://buttersidedownstamps.com.