Of the over 4,000 known mineral species, one of the most well known is pyrite, more commonly known as “fool’s gold.” Pyrite does not contain any gold, but is actually an ore of iron. The bulk of the pyrite available at gift shops, craft stores, or virtually anywhere has come from the Huanzala Mine, located in the central Andean region of Peru.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, local miners would collect specimens during their breaks, and sneak them out of the mine to sell as a supplement to their incomes. At times, the miners would even bring the material out in quantities requiring them to shoulder 100 kg rucksacks, not an easy feat, particularly if the goal was not to destroy all their specimens. During this period, on certain streets in Lima, street vendors could be seen with boxes containing numerous beautiful specimens available for sale to tourists.
With a change in Peru’s political climate however, non-Peruvian mining companies have taken over the mine and little new material has been allowed to leave since the early 2000’s. Regardless, beautiful examples such as this one remain from the early days, and the above is a particularly large example of this classic Peruvian material. There are three primary forms typically seen in pyrite—cubes, octahedrons, and as in the case of this specimen, “pyritohedrons”, a special type of twelve-sided crystal composed of 12 identical pentagons.
Pyrites from this locality are particularly notable for their mirror-like luster, and despite their mass production decades ago, remain amongst the most sought after examples of the species, particularly in the larger sizes. Additing to its appeal is the presence of numerous white barite crystals, seen on only a small percentage of specimens, and adding a welcome degree of contrast and distinctness to the golden pyrite crystals. This piece with the correct lighting reflects flashes of light to any point in a room.