Agate

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Agate (pronounced /ˈæɡət/) is a microcrystalline variety of quartz (silica), chiefly chalcedony, characterised by its fineness of grain and brightness of color. Although agates may be found in various kinds of rock, they are classically associated with volcanic rocks but can be common in certain metamorphic rocks.[1]

Contents

Etymology and history

The stone was given its name by Theophrastus, a Greek philosopher and naturalist, who discovered the stone along the shore line of the river Achates (Greek: Ἀχάτης) sometime between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC.[2] Colorful agates and other chalcedonies were obtained over 3,000 years ago from the Achates River, now called Dirillo, in Sicily.[3]

Ancient use

Agate is one of the most common materials used in the art of hardstone carving, and has been recovered at a number of ancient sites, indicating its widespread use in the ancient world; for example, archaeological recovery at the Knossos site on Crete illustrates its role in Bronze Age Minoan culture.[4]

Formation and characteristics

Most agates occur as nodules in volcanic rocks or ancient lavas where they represent cavities originally produced by the disengagement of volatiles in the molten mass which were then filled, wholly or partially, by siliceous matter deposited in regular layers upon the walls. Such agates, when cut transversely, exhibit a succession of parallel lines, often of extreme tenuity, giving a banded appearance to the section. Such stones are known as banded agate, riband agate and striped agate.

In the formation of an ordinary agate, it is probable that waters containing silica in solution—derived, perhaps, from the decomposition of some of the silicates in the lava itself—percolated through the rock and deposited a siliceous coating on the interior of the vapour-vesicles. Variations in the character of the solution or in the conditions of deposition may cause a corresponding variation in the successive layers, so that bands of chalcedony often alternate with layers of crystalline quartz. Several vapour-vesicles may unite while the rock is still viscous, and thus form a large cavity which may become the home of an agate of exceptional size; thus a Brazilian geode lined with amethyst and weighing 35 tons was exhibited at the Düsseldorf Exhibition of 1902. Perhaps the most comprehensive review of agate chemistry is a recent text by Moxon cited below.

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