Rare Stibnite Specimen Goes on Display at Harvard Museum of Natural History

October 16, 2014

On June 3rd, six strong men carried a stunning, nearly 400-pound specimen of stibnite crystal into the Harvard Museum of Natural History, where the new specimen is now on display on the third-floor landing. Visitors to the museum are intrigued to see one of the largest stibnite specimens on display anywhere in the world. Named the Swords of China, the crystal was discovered in 2003 in the Wuning Mine of the Jiangxi Province in the southeast of the People’s Republic of China.

The mineral is comprised of antimony and sulfur, and boasts delicate, knife-like crystals. This crystal was most likely formed in the time of the dinosaurs some 130 million years ago. It was created when water, heated by volcanic activity, dissolved antimony and sulfur and flowed between layers of limestone.

Stibnite is the main ore of the element antimony, which can be used to make flame-retardants and
engine bearings. In the ancient world stibnite was used to make silvery-gray cosmetics and in its
refined elemental form was used to make colorless glass. Glass is naturally a blue-green color and the discovery of antimony as a de-colorizer was a pivotal moment in glass making history.
“The Harvard Museum of Natural History’s mission is to inspire a sense of wonder and curiosity about the beauty of the natural world. This superb object is an example of the incredible geology of our planet. We are thrilled that our visitors will be able to enjoy it,” commented Jane Pickering, Executive Director of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture.

Raquel Alonso-Perez, Curator of the Mineralogical and Geological Museum at Harvard University, said that in 2003, artisanal miners in China broke into a spectacular cave of stibnite crystals while mining for stibnite ore. This was, and still is, the most important discovery of mineral specimens in the history of mining in China. Luckily at the time the miners were able to call in experienced local mineral dealers who were able to collect some of these giant specimens that are remarkably free of damage.

This specimen and the piece on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York are the only two specimens of this size and quality on display in North America. Only a few specimens of this one-meter size were found and they are now considered great treasures in the world of mineralogy and mineral collecting. “This is a rare and amazing specimen and we are delighted that its generous owner is allowing us to put this treasure from his private collection on public display for the first time,” added Raquel Alonso-Perez. An exciting addition to the newly renovated Earth & Planetary Sciences gallery at the museum, which displays some 3,000 rare minerals, gems, and meteorites, the Swords of China will be displayed through June 2015.

About the Harvard Museum of Natural History

With a mission to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the human place in it, the Harvard Museum of Natural History draws on the University’s collections and research to present a historic and interdisciplinary exploration of science and nature. More than 220,000 visitors a year make it the University’s most visited museum.One of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, the Harvard Museum of Natural History is located at 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, on the Harvard campus, an 8-minute walk from the Harvard Square Red line MBTA station. The museum is wheelchair accessible and open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, 361 days/year. Admission: adults $12; seniors and students, $10; youth ages 3-18, $8; under 3 free. For directions, changing exhibits, lectures, and classes, explore the museum’s website at www.hmnh.harvard.edu or call 617.495.3045.

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Media Contact: Blue Magruder Director of Public Affairs and Marketing, Harvard Museums of Science
& Culture, bluemagruder@hmsc.harvard.edu 617-496-0049

See also: Press Release