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Apache Tears

If you have a specimen in your collection labeled "Apache Tear" and want information about it , you could have a problem. Not all rock and mineral books have a listing for "Apache Tears." This is because it is not a valid mineral name, but a well known nickname for some obsidian nodules. Obsidian is a rock, not a mineral. As you have probably guessed, these nodules are found in locations where Apache Indians lived in the U.S. Southwest. "Apache tears" have been found primarily in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.

All "Apache tears" are obsidian, but not all obsidians are "Apache tears". Obsidian is natural volcanic glass. Don't look for crystals of obsidian because you won't find any. The hot lava forming obsidian cooled much too quickly to allow crystals to form. "Apache tears" are found in grayish white volcanic material called "perlite". Perlite is obsidian that has weathered and altered until it has become porous and lightweight.

Each "Apache tear" lump will have an uneven coating of perlite clinging to it after being pried or dug from a mass of perlite. Tumbling and polishing will reveal a shiny glass pebble that may be black or smoky in color. Hold the tear to the light to see how translucent or transparent it is. It is interesting to note that the "Apache tear" and perlite surrounding it have been formed from the same volcanic material And yet the "tears" are dark in color and its coating of perlite is light in color.

Perlite is used in making lightweight concrete and is also used in the manufacture of insulation. Obsidian with a hardness of 5 to 5.5, is brittle and chips easily. Nevertheless, it has long attracted gem cutters and gem carvers. Obsidian was used fore bowls and cups as early as 3200 B.C. in Mesopotamia. Jewelry set with obsidian made about 1352 B.C. was found in the tomb of King Tut. "Apache tears" are cut by faceters today, because they are plentiful and inexpensive.

by Shirley Greenberg, from the Garnett Gazette, March 1994—(9th Place AFMS 1995 Adult Article)