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Obsidian



Obsidian

Obsidian from Lake County, Oregon
General
CategoryVolcanic glass
Chemical formula70–75% SiO2,
plus MgO, Fe3O4
Identification
ColorBlack, gray, dark green, red
FractureConchoidal
Mohs Scale hardness~ 5 to 5.5
LusterVitreous
Optical PropertiesTranslucent
Specific gravity~ 2.6
This article is about a type of volcanic glass. For other uses see obsidian (disambiguation).

Obsidian is a type of naturally-occurring glass formed as an extrusive igneous rock. It is produced when felsic lava extruded from a volcano cools rapidly through the glass transition temperature and freezes without sufficient time for crystal growth. Obsidian is commonly found within the margins of rhyolitic lava flows known as obsidian flows, where cooling of the lava is rapid. Because of the lack of crystal structure, obsidian blade edges can reach almost molecular thinness, leading to its ancient use as projectile points, and its modern use as surgical scalpel blades.

Additional recommended knowledge

Contents

Origin and properties

  Obsidian is mineral-like, but not a true mineral because as a glass it is not crystalline; in addition, its composition is too complex to comprise a single mineral. It is sometimes classified as a mineraloid. Though obsidian is dark in color similar to mafic rocks such as basalt, obsidian's composition is extremely felsic. Obsidian consists mainly of SiO2 (silicon dioxide), usually 70% or more. Crystalline rocks with obsidian's composition include granite and rhyolite. Because obsidian is metastable at the earth's surface (over time the glass becomes fine-grained mineral crystals), no obsidian has been found that is older than Cretaceous age. This breakdown of obsidian is accelerated by the presence of water. Obsidian has a low water content when fresh, typically less than 1% water by weight [1], but becomes progressively hydrated when exposed to groundwater, forming perlite. Tektites were once thought by many to be obsidian produced by lunar volcanic eruptions, though few scientists now adhere to this hypothesis.

Pure obsidian is usually dark in appearance, though the color varies depending on the presence of impurities. Iron and magnesium typically give the obsidian a dark green to brown to black color. A very few samples are nearly clear. In some stones, the inclusion of small, white, radially clustered crystals of cristobalite in the black glass produce a blotchy or snowflake pattern (snowflake obsidian). It may contain patterns of gas bubbles remaining from the lava flow, aligned along layers created as the molten rock was flowing before being cooled. These bubbles can produce interesting effects such as a golden sheen (sheen obsidian) or a rainbow sheen (rainbow obsidian).    

Occurrence

Obsidian can be found in many locations around the world which have experienced rhyolitic eruptions. Among other places, large obsidan flows are found within the calderas of Newberry Volcano and Medicine Lake Volcano in the Cascade Range of western North America, and at Inyo Craters east of the Sierra Nevada in California. Yellowstone National Park has a mountainside containing much obsidian located between Mammoth Hot Springs and the Norris Geyser Basin, and deposits can be found in many other western US states including Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Utah, and Idaho. Obsidian can also be found in the following countries: Armenia, Turkey, Italy, Mexico, Greece and Scotland.

Historical use

  Obsidian was highly valued in certain Stone Age cultures because, like flint, it could be fractured to produce sharp blades or arrowheads. Like all glass and some other types of naturally occurring rocks, obsidian breaks with a characteristic conchoidal fracture. It was also polished to create early mirrors.

Pre-Columbian Mesoamericans' use of obsidian was extensive and sophisticated, including carved and worked obsidian for tools and decorative objects. Mesoamericans also made a type of sword with obsidian blades mounted in a wooden body. Called a macuahuitl, the weapon was capable of inflicting terrible injuries, combining the sharp cutting edge of an obsidian blade with the ragged cut of a serrated weapon.

Native American people traded obsidian throughout North America. Each volcano and in some cases each volcanic eruption produces a distinguishable type of obsidian, making it possible for archaeologists to trace the origins of a particular artifact. Similar tracing techniques have allowed obsidian to be identified in Greece also as coming from either Melos, Nisyros or Yiali, islands in the Aegean Sea. Obsidian cores and blades were traded great distances inland from the coast.

Obsidian was also used on Rapa Nui (Easter island) for edged tools such as Mataia and the pupils of the eyes of their Moai (statues).

Modern archaeologists have developed a dating system Obsidian hydration dating to calculate the age of Obsidian artifacts.

Current use

 

Obsidian is used in cardiac surgery, as well-crafted obsidian blades have a cutting edge many times sharper than high-quality steel surgical scalpels, with the edge of the blade being only about 3 nm wide [2]. Even the sharpest metal knife has a jagged, irregular blade when viewed under a strong enough microscope. When examined under an electron microscope an obsidian blade is still smooth and even. One study found that obsidian produced narrower scars, fewer inflammatory cells, and less granulation tissue in a group of rats.[3]

Obsidian is also used for ornamental purposes and as a gemstone, for it possesses the peculiar property of presenting a different appearance according to the manner in which it is cut. When cut in one direction it is a beautiful jet black; when cut across another direction it is glistening gray. "Apache tears" are small rounded obsidian nuggets embedded within a grayish-white perlite matrix.

See also

References

  1. ^ Perlite - Mineral Deposit Profiles, B.C. Geological Survey. Retrieved on 2007-11-20.
  2. ^ Buck B.A. 1982. Ancient technology in contemporary surgery. The Western Journal of Medicine, 136, 265-269
  3. ^ A comparison of obsidian and surgical steel scalpe...[Plast Reconstr Surg. 1993 - PubMed Result]. Retrieved on 2007-11-20.
 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Obsidian". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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