Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Geological State Symbols Across America - Alabama

The first state up for the Geological State Symbols Across America is:


You can find any of the other states geological symbols on my website here: (being updated as I go along this year).

                                                                    Year Established
State Rock: Marble                                         1969
State Mineral: Hematite                                 1967
State Gemstone: Star Blue Quartz                  1990
State Fossil: Basilosaurus cetoides                 1984

State Rock: Marble

Act No. 755 H.562 - Smith
An Act
To designate marble as the official rock of the State of Alabama.

Whereas marble, a rock composed primarily of calcium carbonate, is most plentiful in Alabama, being found in the counties of Talladega, Bibb, Calhoun, Clay, Coosa, Etowah, Lee, Macon, St. Clair, and Shelby, and having been quarried in the State since 1840; and,

Whereas one of the most remarkable beds of marble in the world, at least 200 feet thick, occurs near Sylacauga, in Talladega County, being fine-grained and mostly white, of exceptional purity and hardness, taking a beautiful polish, and havig high resistance to abrasion; and,

Whereas buildings throughout this State and the United States have been constructed and ornamented with Alabama marble and this rock has been made a part of some of the nation's most beautiful buildings; and,

Whereas, in addition to its decorative uses, crushes and ground marble is growing in importance as industrial raw material, having application in textiles, paints, electrical insulation, plastics and foods, among others; now, therefore, 
Be It Enacted by the Legislature of Alabama:
Section 1. Marble is hereby designated and names the official rock of Alabama.
Section 2. This Act shall become effective immediately upon its passage and approval by Governor, or upon its otherwise becoming a law.
Approved September 12, 1969.

Book covering the history of
the Sylacauga marble. (

Marble is a metamorphosed variety of the sedimentary rock limestone. This means that the original sedimentary rock underwent periods of increased temperatures and pressures to change the rock itself. The primary minerals in marble are calcite (CaCO3) or dolomite ((Ca,Mg)CO3) but it will usually have other mineral contaminates mixed in as well (i.e., clay, mica, quartz, pyrite, and iron oxide, etc.). Since, the primary mineral in marble is calcite, most marbles will have a white color with swirls of darker colors (the contaminates) but marbles can be found in many different colors depending on what impurities were present in the initial limestone. During metamorphism of the original limestone, the calcite is recrystallized to form interlocking crystals, which will usually destroy any remnants of the original rock, including any fossils present.

Sculpting the Sylacauga Marble during
 the Magic of Marble Festival in 2010. (

The primary source of marble in Alabama is the Sylacauga marble found in Talladega County. The Sylacauga, or Alabama, Marble has been quarried and used in art and building stones throughout Alabama and the US. The marble is named for the town Sylacauga and has been called the "whitest marble in the world" for its purity. The Sylacauga Marble has been used in several famous landmarks including the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the U.S. Supreme Court. The marble formed during metamorphism associated with the Appalachian orogen (mountain building) and is approximately Cambrian to Ordovician in age. Besides the pure white sections of the marble, there are also sections that have green, pink, gray, black, and gold veins in the ~5.5 cubic mile deposit. Official descriptions of the marble state it as "white and pale-blue to light-gray calcite marble, locally containing interlayered dolomite marble and thin phyllite layers" (

State Mineral: Hematite
Act No. 503 S. 81 - Vacca, Hawkins, Bailes
An Act
To designate Hematite as the official mineral of the State of Alabama

Whereas, Red Iron Ore, with the scientific name of Hematite, and the chemical formula of Fe2O3, is one of the most valuable and important minerals found in the State of Alabama, and

Whereas, Hematite is used for iron and steel and many industries in this State got their initial start with this important, Alabama-produced mineral, and

Whereas this valuable natural resource has aided the economy of Alabama by contributing to it, since, 1863, 316 million long tons at a value of 850 million dollars.

Be It Enacted by the Legislature of Alabama:
Section 1. Hematite is hereby designated and named the official mineral of the State of Alabama.
Section 2. This Act shall become effective immediately upon its passage and approval by the Governor, or upon its otherwise becoming a law.
Approved September 7, 1967.
Images of red and silver hematite

Hematite is a mineral that is produced from the oxidation of iron, and forms iron oxide in the form of Fe2O3. In everyday language, this means that hematite is more commonly known as rust. Hematite is primarily composed of iron and is abundant on the Earth's surface,resulting in hematite becoming one of our most common sources of iron ore. Although typically found as a red "earthy" deposit, there is also a variety of hematite that has a silver/steel-grey metallic appearance to it (pictured left). Both varieties of hematite can be easily identified by the characteristic bright red streak of the mineral. Hematite has a hardness of 5 to 6, meaning that it is approximately as hard as a plane of glass (5.5). The mineral hematite was originally named "aematitis lithos" in ~300 BCE by the Greek Theophrastus and its name means "blood stone". The name was translated by Pliny the Elder to haematites, meaning "bloodlike", and that name eventually evolved to the modern spelling of "hematite".

Cast iron statue of Vulcan from
Birmingham, AL (

The hematite in Alabama was primarily mined from the Red Mountain Formation until 1975, where it became cheaper to import it. At one time it was Alabama's most developed, non-fuel, mineral industry, helping to build up Birmingham as an industrial center. In the 135 years hematite was mined, ~375 million tons of ore was excavated. The Red Mountain Formation is primarily a Silurian interbedded shale-sandstone with some siltstone and limestone deposits intermixed. The hematite is largely from cross-bedded sandstone members of the Red Mountain Formation, which were deposited as shoreface (essentially beach) deposits. The production of hematite within the sandstone was precipitated during periods of sediment starvation and reworking during a regression (sea-level drop). Birmingham is also known for the largest cast-iron structure ever made, the statue of Vulcan (picture right), produced entirely with the Birmingham iron ore.

State Gemstone: Star Blue Quartz
Act No. 90-203 S.J.R. 7 - Senator Hale
Senate Joint Resolution

Designating the Star Blue Quartz as the official gemstone for the State of Alabama.

Be it resolved by the Legislature of Alabama, both houses thereof concurring, that the Star Blue Quartz be designated as the official gemstone for the State of Alabama.
Approved March 29, 1990
star blue quartz
Star blue quartz (

Quartz is one of the most common minerals on Earth, primarily due to its simple structure and chemical formula, SiO2. Quartz also has an extremely high hardness, 7 on Mohs hardness scale, meaning that it doesn't scratch very easily and therefore does not break down easily. As the rocks on Earth are slowly eroded over time, most of the other minerals will break down into clay while quartz grains will generally just gets smaller and smaller. The result is that most beach sand is composed of quartz that has a slight hematite (rust) stain to it to give the sand grains their slight yellowish color. Although quartz is a simple mineral, it can come in a variety of colors depending on what type of impurities are present in the crystal structure; pure quartz crystal is clear, milky quartz is white, smoky quartz is grey, amethyst is purple quartz, citrine is yellow quartz, rose quartz is pink, as well as some other colors and varieties. Quartz does not have any cleavage, meaning that when it breaks it doesn't form along perfect surfaces. Instead as the quartz crystals grow, individual mineral molecules of quartz are added to the outside of the crystal from water rich in dissolved SiO2 or mineral melt (liquid rock like lava or magma).

Unlike the other varieties of quartz (such as citrine or amethyst), pure blue quartz has not yet been found in nature. Instead, the quartz crystals appear blue because of the inclusions of other minerals or properties of the mineral itself that make the light reflect through the mineral and makes it appear blue. The reason that Star Blue Quartz is blue is that it contains little bits of amphibole (another type of mineral) and displays asterism (a star pattern in the light) when polished. The problem with this variety of quartz though is that there is little to no information on where to find it or why it was even listed as the state gemstone. The best that I can find is the constantly rehashed phrase from when it was promoted to the state: "(star blue quartz) is one of the most beautiful gemstones on earth, and the cheapest because there are so many." It appears that this very common mineral is rare to non-existent in Alabama. There have been reports of it along the Flint River, but most of those occurrences are generally in neighboring Georgia.

State Fossil: Basilosaurus cetoides
Act No. 84-66 H.J.R. 78 - Rep. Onderdonk
House Joint Resolution
Designating "Species Basilosaurus cetoides," the ancient whale fossil as the official Alabama fossil.

Whereas, the Alabama Legislature notes that the ancient whale "Species Basilosaurus Cetoides," (sic) named after the forty million year old whale fossil was discovered in Washington County, Alabama; and

Whereas, this ancient whale fossil is most abundant in the State of Alabama, and two of the most comprehensive skeletons of the "Species Basilosaurus Cetoides" (sic) were discovered in Alabama, on discovered by Mr. Ronald "Bones" Rhoads and now located in the Red Mountain Museum, Birmingham, Alabama, and the second, a fifty-five foot skeletal exhibit is on display in the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; and

Whereas, the Alabama Legislature feels it is most appropriate that the interest in and the study of this ancient aquatic mammal predator, with serrated posterior molars, be encouraged and perpetuated for scientific and historical reasons; now therefore,

Be it resolved by the Alabama Legislature, both houses thereof concurring, That the Alabama Legislature does hereby designate as the official State of Alabama Fossil the "Species Basilosaurus Cetoides." (sic)

Resolved further, That no fossil "Species Basilosaurus Cetoides" (sic) shall be removed from the State of Alabama, in whole or in part, except by prior written approval of the Governor.

Be it further resolved, That copies of this resolution shall be sent to the Washington County governing body, the Director of the Department of Archives and History, the governor and to the red Mountain Museum, Birmingham, Alabama, for appropriate display.

Approved March 13, 1084

Basilosaurus skeleton from the National Museum of Natural History (

Basilosaurus is a member of the whale family (Cetacea) first discovered in Alabama in 1834. It was originally thought to be a swimming reptile but was later discovered that it was indeed a whale from the Eocene period (40-35 million years ago). Unlike modern day whales, Basilosaurus still retained its hind limbs. These were thought to be mostly nonfunctional, however there is a theory that they could have been used during sex. Basilosaurus is one of the closest related animals to modern day cetaceans (dolphins, whales, etc.) that still retains their hind-limbs, although the pelvis is not connected to the vertebrae, limiting any function that it could provide.

Phylogenetic relationships of early cetaceans (from Houssaye et al., 2015)

The group Basilosauridae contained a few other species that had body proportions similar to modern day dolphins but Basilosaurus had an "exceptionally long body and tail" resulting in the animal having a more snake-like appearance. The body length ranged from 49 to 59 ft and is one of the largest known animals during the Paleocene-Eocene time period. Basilosaurus is most abundant in Alabama and has been found in Clarke, Choctaw, and Washington counties.

Chowns, Tim & Rindsberg, Andrew. (2015). Stratigraphy and depositional environments in the Silurian Red Mountain Formation of the southern Appalachian basin. 10.1130/2015.0039(04). 
Houssaye A, Tafforeau P, de Muizon C, Gingerich PD. Transition of Eocene whales from land to sea: evidence from bone microstructure. PLoS One. 2015;10(2):e0118409. Published 2015 Feb 25. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118409

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