Print Study Room: Natural Resources

“Introduction to Natural Resources” with Department Chair of Geosciences Jennifer Cholnoky

“If it’s not grown, it must be mined.” Mineral resources (metals, industrial minerals, gems, and building materials, for example) are the foundation of many national economies and have complicated and contributed to geopolitical and environmental conflicts throughout history. In this course, students learned about the formation and distribution of mineral resources and about the impact exploration and extraction of these materials has had on man and earth.

Students researched these connections in order to write labels for objects in the Tang collection that contain mineral resources as a material. You can read the results of their research below.

A clock with gold-colored trim around the face. The hands and roman numerals of the clock are black on a white face, the clock is set inside a glass box with wood trim, the top and base of the box is green jade.
Ansonia Clock Co., mantel clock, 19th-20th century, glass, brass, steel, jade, 12 ¾ x 7 ⅜ x 6 ¼ inches, Tang Teaching Museum, gift of Patricia Hart, 1994.43
Zoe Pagliaro ’20, Katie Garofalo ’20, and Olivia Kupiec ’22
The mottled viridescent base and top of this clock are characteristic of the gemstone jade, which is derived from the mineral jadeite. This mineral is commonly recognized for its colorful hues that range from pale apple to forest green. Jadeite forms in metamorphic rocks deep in Earth’s crust that are under high pressure but low temperatures. This most commonly occurs in subduction zones or tectonic regions in which the ocean floor sinks beneath a continental land mass.
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The gold colored frame and gears are made out of brass, a mixture, or alloy, of the elements copper and zinc. The more zinc that is added to the melted copper, the stronger and less moldable the brass becomes, creating a material ideal for forming the functioning gears of an ornate clock. Copper is formed at subduction zones where hot briny water dissolves and transports copper and concentrates it in the crust. Zinc is commonly deposited in vein shaped cracks in continental rock as the temperature cools and pressure decreases when hot magma rises.

The darker, internal framework of the clock is steel, an alloy of iron and carbon. Most iron is extracted from Banded Iron Formations, ores that formed during the Great Oxygenation Event 1.8-2.6 billion years ago; iron molecules already present in the ocean bonded with newly introduced oxygen from the first photosynthesizing plants.

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A blue glaze covers a cylinder with a bulbous top, mark making in the clay reveal darker blues and sometimes brown layers, with a metallic colored rim at the bottom.
Regis Brodie, untitled, 1973, salt-fired ceramic with luster overglaze, 7 x 4 ⅞ x 4 ⅞ inches, Tang Teaching Museum, gift of the Estate of Wallace B. Moore, 1994.35
Liana Heath ’22 and Simone Rothberg ’20
Regis Brodie, born in 1942, worked as a professor in the Art Department at Skidmore College for 41 years. During his time at Skidmore, Brodie created a series of ceramic works that were exploratory in nature, created for artistic observation rather than a functional use. Brodie created this Untitled work using a technique called salt-fired glazing. In this process, the potter throws salt into the hot kiln, which reacts with silica in the clay to produce sodium silicate. This creates a glassy visual quality, as well as the orange peel-like texture with small indents as can be seen on this piece.
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Clay deposits form from chemical and physical weathering of silicate bearing rocks over a long period of time. There are three types of clay used for pottery: earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. We suspect that this piece is made from earthenware clay, as this type is usually used for decorative pieces and holds the original glaze color for a long time. The salt in the glaze is common NaCl (the same as table salt). The glaze may be sourced from cobalt oxide, used in conjunction with iron and manganese, to produce the blue color.
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An organic shaped seed with a yellow top sits on top of a puddle of dark gray metallic rock.
Keith Edmier, Cycas revoluta bulbil, 2003, acrylic, cast urethane on basalt base, 8 ½ x 13 x 16 inches, Tang Teaching Museum, gift of Marianne Boesky, 2015.38.1
Isaac Bardin ’20 and Jaclyn Finger ’23
Cycas revoluta bulbil is titled after the cycad, an ancient plant with stiff green leaves which has survived for millions of years with few changes. The sculpture base was formed from basalt, melted into lava in a furnace at 1,000 degrees Celsius and poured into a mold. Basalt is commonly found in ocean basins as fast-cooling lava, but in the studio Edmier slowed down the cooling rate by burying it in insulators like sand and wood shavings to produce a glassy-smooth texture. Once cooled, the sculpture base emerged from the mold as a striking wavy ring, and the cast urethane plant was later attached. Cycads can reproduce asexually—Cycas revoluta bulbil addresses aspects of sexuality and symbolizes the male and female functions of reproduction, renewal and rebirth.
Three rocks with a rough and porous texture, each set on a wooden base that is smooth and carved in an organic shape.
Artist unknown, three scholar’s rocks, n.d., stone on wood, Tang Teaching Museum, promised gift of Susan M. Yecies
Harrison Winrow ’22 and Sophia Barrett ’21
The Scholar’s Rock is a naturally occurring volcanic rock that was most likely mined or discovered during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The type of rock is probably basalt, a mafic, extrusive, igneous rock, because of its fine-grained composition and dark coloring. Basalt, consisting of plagioclase, pyroxene, and similar minerals, forms from lava flow and igneous dikes. It is often formed near oceanic divergent boundaries, oceanic hotspots, mantle plumes, or regions of volcanic activity.
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In China, exposed basalt can only be located at the geologic anomalies of the south China folds, the Wanda Mountain region, and volcanic sites in the northwest region of the country. These samples may have formed at oceanic divergent boundaries up to 250 million years ago; magma spills into an ocean basin and lithifies as the boundary pulls apart. Over an extended geologic timescale, these pillow basalt formations can be discovered exposed on continental surfaces from tectonic movement and supercontinent cycles. Oceanic hotspots cause basalt to form as magma rises from within the mantle at a particularly thin region of the asthenosphere.
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A round metal sheet, shaped into a hollow circle with an opening on the side and a hole in the center so that it can be worn as jewelry.
Unrecorded Mbole artist, anklet, 20th century, copper alloy, 5 x 9 x 9 inches, Tang Teaching Museum, gift of Bill and Gale Simmons, 2000.1.42
Mac Dill ’20 and Anna Merrens ’20

This anklet, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was likely used as currency or for other transactional agreements, and would have been worn on the ankle after being traded. Similar anklets have been forged in brass, however, the scratches and wear on the surface of this piece suggests that it was forged in copper.

The use of copper makes economic and geographical sense in connection to the geology of the region, as the Democratic Republic of Congo is located next to and on top of the second-largest reserve of copper, the Katanga Copperbelt.

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Formed in the Neoproterozoic era, 1,000 to 541 million years ago, there are several hypotheses as to why the Katanga Copperbelt formed. Most scientists attribute the pH and saltwater located in the region at the time of creation as integral to the concentration and deposition of copper, cobalt, and nickel. Beyond these factors, compression from plate tectonics over time has been attributed to altering the structure and location of these deposits.
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Small stone sculpture of a figure, their mouth is open and they are holding their hands in front of their chest. Stone has flecks of light and dark green.
Unrecorded artist, figure, 1500 BCE – 300 CE, serpentine jade, 3 ⅛ x 1 x 1 inches, Tang Teaching Museum, Moreen O’Brien Maser Memorial Collection, ML1982.156
Kailey Toia ’20 and Crystal Belle ’22

This figure was carved from serpentine jade in the Olmec Empire (1500 BCE–300 CE). In Olmec cultures, pendants are carved from serpentine to protect against poison, venom, snake bites, and parasite infections.

Serpentine jade differs from traditional jadeite as it is less dense and has a lower hardness, so it is easier to carve. Although nephrite is more similar to serpentine jade, the distinction can be made by nephrite being less waxy and translucent.

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It is thought the Olmec traded for serpentine with the Mokaya civilization, located in Western Guatemala. Due to the subduction zone at the Motagua fault line in Guatemala, the Mokaya civilization had access to deposits of serpentine jade.

Serpentine jade is formed when an ocean plate subducts under a continental plate. The ultramafic rocks present at the convergence zone undergo hydrothermal metamorphism. The olivine and pyroxene minerals in the rock are intruded with seawater carrying serpentine minerals, which then replace them.

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A rectangular stone with relief carving of a figure reclining. The figure is wearing decorative waist garment and headdress and holding something to their mouth, possibly a pipe or flute.
Unrecorded artist, Maya-Toltec carving, 900-1200 CE, stone, 10 ½ x 20 x 8 inches, Tang Teaching Museum, Moreen O’Brien Maser Memorial Collection, ML1982.1
Drew Bugna ’22 and Freddie Klaus ’20
This carving in stone from the Maya Toltec civilization (900-1200) depicts a figure in a recumbent position indicating that they are likely of high status. Adorned in accessories that also reflect status, the figure appears to be smoking a pipe. The bird-like figure resting on the figure’s shoulder pays homage to Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror, god of the nocturnal sky, god of ancestral memory, god of time and the Lord of the North, and the embodiment of change through conflict.
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The stone material of this carving is most likely limestone. Limestone is a sedimentary rock, frequently formed in shallow marine environments from shells and skeletons from marine organisms. These organisms form calcium carbonate shells, and once they die these shells are broken down by waves and accumulate as sediment on the ocean floor. As these particles are compressed, they lithify into solid rock and limestone is produced. The Gulf of Mexico is a limestone forming environment, and the Toltec capital city of Tula was located on a limestone outcrop, so many artifacts from the civilization were created in this material.
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Three rocks with a rough and porous texture, each set on a wooden base that is smooth and carved in an organic shape.
Artist unknown, three scholar’s rocks, n.d., stone on wood, Tang Teaching Museum, promised gift of Susan M. Yecies
Kate Bjorklund ’20 and Oliver Wilson ’23
Scholar’s rocks first appeared in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Interest in the natural environment surged with the concurrent rise of Daoism, and these prized wood-mounted stones were used to study microcosms of the universe. Most scholar’s rocks are made of limestone that once existed in the Yingde and Lingbi caves, as well as in the Quinshi Mountain mudflats of the Anhui province in Eastern China. The mildly acidic soil would help shape the stones in the mudflats. Whereas, natural water erosion and calcification processes likely sculpted the stones found in caves. In some cases, the valued qualities of the rocks were enhanced through polishing.
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