New Information from Old Specimens

In many ways the future and relevance of museum collections often depend on their past. Some specimens remain in the collections for a long time, sometimes over 100 years before they prove vital for current research projects.

Tasmanian sapphire

S Humphreys © Australian Museum

For this reason we cannot predict the future importance of specimens being registered in the collections right now.

Two good examples of this can be found in the Australian Museum's mineral collection:

Zircon concentrated from stream gravel from Rocky River, Uralla, New South Wales, had been in the collection for 85 years before being used for Fission Track radioactive dating. The specimens were registered on 10 July 1901 and were used in 1986 for a project on past volcanic activity in the New England region of New South Wales. The project results show that based on the age of the zircon, there were two periods of volcanic activity (eruption ages) in the area, three million and 27 million years ago.

Crystal fragments of Tasmanian sapphire were registered as part of the collection in 1927. Seventy years later, the fragments were analysed as part of a joint study between the Australian Museum and a gemstone laboratory in Switzerland, into the origins of Australian sapphire and ruby. The researchers analysed the minor element content of the specimens, in particular iron, titanium, gallium, vanadium and chromium. The relative concentrations of the elements reflect the environment in which the sapphires formed. The results showed that these sapphires were from a magmatic (molten rock) source, not from a metamorphic (rock changed by heat ant/or pressure) source. This helps in searching for new gem deposits.


Ross Pogson , Collection Manager, Mineralogy
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