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How To Identify Alluvial Minerals

Even geologists can have a difficult time identifying minerals. There are over 4,000 known minerals, and approximately 80-100 new ones are discovered each year. Of all these, only a few hundred are considered common.

To help with identification, geologists examine the physical properties of a mineral. These specific properties include: color, streak, hardness, cleavage, specific gravity, crystal form.

The Periodic Table of Elements was created to organize all existing elements. It is the de facto resource of the Earth's elements.

Montana Gold
Wire Gold
Diamonds From India

Geologists most often identify minerals based on their physical and chemical properties. A description of these properties are listed below. Many of these properties are controlled by the elements present in the mineral and their arrangement.


The most easily observed property, but usually the least useful. A mineral's color can be changed by the impurities that are found in the mineral.


The way light is reflected from a newly exposed surface. Described as either metallic or nonmetallic. Some examples of minerals with metallic luster are pyrite, galena and magnetite. Some examples of minerals with nonmetallic luster are calcite, quartz and feldspar. Nonmetallic luster can also be described as glassy, pearly, waxy and earthy (dull).


The color of the mineral in powder form. This test is done by rubbing the mineral across a white streak plate. Several minerals have a streak that is not the same color as the mineral itself. Most metallic luster minerals have a dark colored streak.

Crystal Structure

Some minerals form crystals, if there is time and room for the crystals to form. The crystal pattern of a mineral is controled by the internal arrangement of the atoms that make up the mineral. Some examples of these crystal structures are quartz which has a hexagonal (six-sided) crystal and halite which has a cubic crystal.


he ability of one mineral to scratch another. The softer mineral gets scratched. You test a mineral's hardness by scratching the unknown mineral with an object of known hardness. Moh's Scale of Hardness is used to rate the hardness of a mineral. The chart below shows the ten minerals that make up the hardness scale and some common materials with their hardness to test unknown minerals. One on the scale is the softest and ten is the hardest.

Mineral Uses & Properties

This site has everything you want to know about minerals and a whole lot more. It includes pictures and detailed descriptions.

Pictures & Properties Of Gemstones

This link will give you more pictures than Wikipedia does with info related to each one.

What Is A Gemstone?

This Wikipedia resource provides a comprehensive look at gem stones and the resources at the end are a host of good directions to educate you on all the different aspects.

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