Soapstone

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Soapstone (also known as steatite or soaprock) is a metamorphic rock, a talc-schist. It is largely composed of the mineral talc and is thus rich in magnesium. It is produced by dynamothermal metamorphism and metasomatism, which occurs in the areas where tectonic plates are subducted, changing rocks by heat and pressure, with influx of fluids, but without melting. It has been a medium for carving for thousands of years.

Contents

Petrology

Petrologically, soapstone is composed dominantly of talc, with varying amounts of chlorite and amphiboles (typically tremolite, anthophyllite, and magnesiocummingtonite), and trace to minor FeCr-oxides. It may be schistose or massive. Soapstone is formed by the metamorphism of ultramafic protoliths (e.g. dunite or serpentinite) and the metasomatism of siliceous dolostones.

Pyrophyllite, a mineral very similar to talc is sometimes called soapstone in the generic sense since its physical characteristics and industrial uses are similar,[citation needed] and because it is also commonly used as a carving material. However this mineral typically does not have such a soapy feel as that from which soapstone derives its name.

Physical characteristics and uses

Steatite is relatively soft (because of the high talc content, talc being one on Mohs hardness scale), and may feel soapy when touched, hence the name. Soapstone is used for inlaid designs, sculpture, coasters, and kitchen countertops and sinks. The Inuit often used soapstone for traditional carvings. Some Native American groups made bowls, cooking slabs, and other objects from soapstone, particularly during the Late Archaic archaeological period.[1] Vikings hewed soapstone directly from the stone face, shaped it into cooking-pots, and sold these at home and abroad.[2]

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