Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Geological State Symbols Across the US - #2 Alaska

The state for this month is Alaska. Here are the stats:

                                                        Year Established
State Mineral: Gold                                1968
State Gemstone: Jade                              1968
State Fossil: Woolly Mammoth                1986

State Mineral: Gold
picture of Gold Dust Image
Gold is a mineral made up entirely by the element Au (gold). It is bright yellow and very dense and malleable. Currently gold is considered one of the mot valuable metals on Earth, being used as the standard for most money (gold standard). Gold has an important history in Alaska. Originally when the territory was purchased it was referred to as a folly because this big hunk of land couldn't be worth anything. That was before gold was discovered. It began in the 1870's and continued through most of the 1900's. The beginnings of many communities in Alaska got their start as gold mining towns. Today Alaska is more known for it's oil exploration but gold still holds a prominent place in it's heart with Fairbanks remaining as a major gold exploration area.

State Gemstone: Jade
Jade is the pure gemstone variety of nephrite which is a metamorphic mineral in the tremolite family. Alaska has large deposits of jade throughout the state but its principle claim to fame is an entire mountain made out of Jade. The mountain is located far from any road, north of the Arctic Circle, near Kobuk, AK. Very large blocks have been taken out of the mountain and used to create statues including a 3,600 lb block for a police memorial statue. Currently, jade statues and jewelry produced from Alaska's famed Jade Mountain can be found all over the world, including a plaque embedded in the Washington Monument.


State Fossil: Woolly Mammoth
A dwarfed form of the woolly mammoth lived on Wrangel Island (an island off the coast of eastern Siberia) until about 1700 BC, more than 8,000 years after their larger ancestors died off.  Another population lived on St Paul Island off the coast of Alaska.
Depicted: A dwarf woolly mammoth compared to a regular-sized woolly mammoth.
The Woolly Mammoth, also known as Mammuthus primigenius, is a species closely related to modern day elephants which was covered with hair. Unlike most of the state fossils, mammoths are often found as complete specimens. They are usually frozen in the snow or buried in a swamp of Arctic regions. Most of the 100 or so remains of fully preserved mammoths have been found in Russia and Alaska. Mammoth remains are found throughout the northern reaches of the state as well as scattered throughout other regions. The local prehistoric people were known to have  had interactions with the mammoths. Evidence includes tools that were created from their tusks.

A small island off the coast of Alaska is also one of the last remaining locations where woolly mammoths lived (until ~3,750 BC). Since the island was small the mammoths that have been found here were dwarf varieties of the typical continental mammoths (pictured right).

References
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