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  • Beginner’s Guide to Rock Collecting and Geology

    Do you have a fascination with rocks and geology? If you wish to begin your journey as an amateur rock collector, in this article, we’ll provide a breakdown of rock hunting for beginners by helping you identify rocks more specifically and figure out where you can find these rocks. We’ll also look at different rock collecting tools, how you can clean your samples and how to build your very own rock collection. 

    With time, you’ll know far more about the rocks that litter rural landscapes and have a greater understanding and appreciation for geological studies. The following rock collectors guide will prove very useful if you wish to become an amateur rock collector/geological enthusiast!

    Contents

    What is Geology?

    The term ‘geo’ itself, taken from the Greek word ge refers to the Earth. Unsurprisingly, the definition of geology is the study of the structure and substances of the Earth. Geology also covers the history of these structures and substances and the processes which impact upon them (e.g. mantle convection). Not only does having an understanding of geology make it easier to understand the categories of rocks, but you’ll have a better idea of how they formed, why they exist where they do, why they appear as they are and what rocks you may expect to find in a given area. Becoming a geologist can be a long process, but it is possible to establish a career in the field. You’ll need at least an undergraduate degree, but in most cases a graduate degree is necessary, and many geologists will have undertaken a two or three-year long master’s degree before becoming a professional.

    There are various job prospects when it comes to geology. For example, you could become a geochemist, hydrogeologist, geotechnical engineer, wellsite geology, geoscientists or engineering geologist, among other roles. Alternatively, you may wish to collect rocks as a hobby. Even in this case, you can learn a lot, gain plenty of great experiences and grow a fantastic rock collection that you can be proud of.

    Rock Collecting Basics

    So you’ve decided that you want to start collecting rocks, but you’re unsure where to start. In this section, we’ll explore topics such as the various types of rocks (i.e. igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic) and what tools/equipment you might need for your amateur fieldwork.

    Knowing the basics of geology is important before you start collecting rocks as otherwise you won’t understand what you’re collecting, how rare or significant the rock is and what its history might be. To build a great rock collection, you want to be able to provide a profile to characterise each rock you’ve collected. So let’s get right into the basics of rock collecting for beginners.

    Types of Rock

    In this subsection, we’ll break down the three main rock categories, looking at details such as their features, what they’re made from and where they can be found.

    Igneous

    Also known as magmatic rock, igneous rock results from the solidification or cooling of lava or magma. This type of rock can be subcategorised based on whether it formed inside the Earth (intrusive) or on the planet’s surface (extrusive). Among the common features of igneous rocks are visible crystals, a fine-grained surface (and less often, a coarse-grained one). In the case of intrusive igneous rocks, they appear coarse-grained, the edges of their crystals interlock and their surface/texture is mostly uniform.

    Extrusive igneous rocks, on the other hand, can be identified as fine-grained with some containing rectangular crystals, they are very hard, and some volcanic igneous rocks contain vesicles (holes that resulted from molten gas bubbles during rock formation).

    Igneous rocks form close to active plate boundaries or as a result of hot spots before rising to the surface. Either way, the molten rock then solidifies and crystallises. New igneous rocks are forming all the time due to ongoing volcanic activity, and thus, the very first igneous rocks appeared on Earth 4.6 billion years ago when the planet was forming. If magma cools rapidly, it may only take weeks or even days for igneous rocks to form, but if cooling occurs more gradually underground it could take millennia or perhaps even millions of years. A type of igneous rock, basaltic is what makes up almost the whole deep ocean floor. Igneous rocks also often appear near tectonic plate borders or in volcanic island arcs. However, they’ve naturally been carried all over the world and can be found in many parts of the UK such as the Highlands of Scotland, northern Wales, Northern Ireland and the northwest of England.

    Sedimentary

    These rocks, comprising 70% of those on Earth, form when sediment (a natural material that results from weathering and erosion over time) is pressed together to create rock. You can spot a sedimentary rock based on whether it is made from grains. When sediment is buried deeply enough, this is usually what’s needed for it to become compact enough to turn into rock. Sedimentary rocks can be made of a range of different materials and it also depends on the type of sedimentary rock. For example, clastic sedimentary rocks often feature clastic crystals such as mica, clay, feldspar and quartz. Conglomerates and breccias are largely made of gravel, the most important ingredient of sandstone is quartz and chemical rocks consist largely of salt and gypsum. The oldest sedimentary rocks formed about 3.9 billion years ago and they can take anywhere from several thousand to many millions of years to form. Sedimentary rock can be discovered in many environments across the world such as oceans, deserts and caves. There are plenty of sedimentary rocks spread throughout the south of England.

    Metamorphic

    These rocks are descendants of the previous two categories. This rock category gets its name from the fact that it consists of rocks that metamorphosed from their previous state as igneous or sedimentary rocks. You can spot metamorphic rocks if you notice its crystals are lined up in bands along the surface of the rock. They tend to have a foliated or banded texture to them. Metamorphic rocks form due to intense pressure or/and heat inside the Earth’s crust. They can be made of materials ranging from basalt to iron ore since they are formed through the compression of igneous or sedimentary rocks. There exist metamorphic rocks dating back some 3.8 billion years. Metamorphic rocks are often found in mountain ranges. Much of these rocks can be found in the Highlands of Scotland.

    Rock Collecting Tools

    Let’s now move on to considering what tools can be used to help your search for and collection of rocks when you are out in the field.

    Pointed-tip Rock Hammer

    This hammer contains a square head and a pointed end. Pointed-tip rock hammers (a.k.a rock picks) are employed to fracture hard rocks so that you can see what such rocks look like internally. The hammer’s pointed end may also be used to scrape or dig out samples of minerals from hard rock for further investigation.

    Sledgehammer

    A crack hammer, more commonly known as a sledgehammer consists of a large, flat head which is often metallic-based and a long handle. It is used to split and even break apart rocks. You can also use a sledgehammer to drive pry bars or/and chisels into rock fractures. While sledgehammers are effective, they are not very precise, so take this into account when deciding what tools to bring with you.

    Hybrid Hammer

    This is a broad category of hammers which can include the likes of chipping or welding hammers. Such hammers are used by rock collectors solely for the purpose of breaking rock apart although this is not necessarily their primary function, since such hammers are generally not designed for rock collectors in particular.

    Chisel

    This tool is a hand tool with a long blade. You can strike the handle of a chisel with another object (e.g. hammer/mallet) in order to cut stone. This is ideal if you need to break a small part of rock off a larger one. You’ll need an appropriate masonry tool to chisel rock. They are designed to initially score the rock before breaking up the rock along the score line. A chisel-edge rock hammer can achieve a similar effect but may be better since they are designed specifically for rock collecting.

    Shovel

    This tool needs no explaining. However, once more, you will want to purchase a shovel that is designed for this sort of work and which ideally should have a rounded tip and a long blade. A shovel can be used to unearth rocks further below or to dig up rocks that are visible but too difficult to pull out by hand alone.

    Magnifying Glass

    This useful tool comes with a convex lens, which is how it provides a magnified image to the user. It can be utilised to identify rock types, additional details of these rocks and to spot tiny, microscopic rock pieces.

    Bucket

    You’ll need some way of collecting your rockets when you’re out among nature, and a bucket is a perfect way to achieve this. It’s important that you have a bucket made from the right material and size so that it will be strong and large enough to carry the rocks you wish to take home with you.

    Stiff Bristle Brushes

    This type of brush is an effective cleaning tool which can be used to clear grime and other dirt as well as debris from rocks. This can make it easier to analyse and collect rocks.

    Plastic or Paper Bags

    While a bucket is a great way to collect rocks left, right and centre while on your journey, you may wish to then place different rocks in plastic or paper bags with labels on them to separate them. This can help make it easier to organise your collection.

    Polarised Sunglasses

    The lenses of these sunglasses are generally made of transparent plastic or glass with a chemical film imposed on top of them. The filters of polarised sunglasses allow for light rays to only reach the wearer’s eyes vertically by creating openings for light vertically. As a result, polarised sunglasses give you the ability to focus more on what you’re looking at right in front of you, thus making it easier to visibly analyse rocks.

    Where to Find New Rocks

    There are many places you can go to search for rock samples to establish your collection. You’ll find that mountains, rivers and cliffs are often great places to find rocks. If you want to find igneous rocks, you should consider visiting the Scottish Highlands, Snowdonia in the north of Wales, the lake district in northwest England or the giant’s causeway of Northern Ireland. To track down sedimentary rocks you’ll find them scattered across the south of England whether it be in the Cleveland Hills in Yorkshire, the Cotswold Hills, the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, Isle of Portland and the Vale of White Horse in Oxfordshire. 

    As for metamorphic rocks, northwest Scotland (particularly in the Highlands) and the western isles are great places to find such rocks. The Lewisian Complex is a prominent metamorphic outcrop of the northwest of Scotland. In fact, the Highlands are largely made of metamorphic rocks have formed in the past half a billion years. Of course, in the case of each of the aforementioned rock types, you’ll be able to find them more locally to you as well through research if none of the locations discussed in this section are particularly close.

    How to Clean Rock Samples

    Once you’ve returned from collecting rock samples, it’s important that you clean them effectively but also safely. There are various methods that can be used to clean rock samples. In terms of useful tools, dust blowers, cleaning brushes and cotton buds can all be helpful. Other tools worth considering are sand blasters, water guns, air scribes and ultrasonic cleaners. There are various household solutions which can be used to remove dirt and debris from a rock such as oxalic acid or products which contain it, toilet cleanser, vinegar, bleach and even distilled water. Muriatic acid is another option. Regardless of what chemicals you use, make sure to wash them off afterwards and use appropriate safety equipment (e.g. protective gloves and eye protection). 

    Different methods can be suitable for different rocks. While dry and wet cleaning regimens can be used for stone, it is better to employ a dry-cleaning approach. In the case of slate, for example, you should not apply chemicals. The same applies to travertine. It’s essential that you know exactly what different rocks and rock types will need when it comes to cleaning by undertaking research.

    Storing a Rock Collection

    After cleaning your rock samples, you’ll want to work out the best way(s) of starting a rock collection, in terms of how it should be stored. You’ll need a significant storage space such as part of a wardrobe or a cabinet to safely hold your rock collection. Light can damage rocks, so it is preferably better to keep them in the dark. To take further steps to ensure the durability of rocks, you can store them in low-acid card trays, clear polystyrene boxes with lids or even plastazote cut-outs. Ideally, rocks should be stored in temperatures that remain consistently between 16°C to 18°C and in relative humidity of 45% to 60%. You may also be wondering how to display rock collection samples? A rock collection box can be used as an aesthetically pleasing way to create a fantastic rock collection display. Either way, you should display them in a clean, dry room with good ventilation if choosing to show off your collection to others.

    Rock Collecting Regulations and Permissions

    Of course, on private land you will need permission from the owners to collect samples. However, even on public land, restrictions can apply. With this in mind, make sure that you research the rules and regulations in regards to a given area before you head out there. You cannot take rocks from heritage sites or national parks without expressed permission. In addition, you should also avoid collecting samples from areas of special scientific interest (ASSIs).

    Joining Rock Collection Clubs

    There are rock collecting and geological clubs located across the UK including the Scottish Mineral & Lapidary Club, Southampton Mineral & Fossil Society, the British Geological Survey and the Brighton & Hove Geological Society. To find appropriate clubs near you, try Googling, along with the name of the area where you live, ‘rock collecting clubs’, ‘amateur rock collecting clubs’ and ‘amateur geological clubs’. So for example, if you live in Wolverhampton, try looking up ‘rock collecting clubs Wolverhampton’.

    Conclusion

    Thanks for reading our guide to rock collection and geology. We hope this article has helped you kick start your journey as an amateur rock collector. We’ve looked at the three types of rocks, where in the UK they can be found, tools for collecting them and how to clean and store them. We also looked at the regulations and permissions of rock collecting in the UK as well as looking at rock collection clubs.

    We hope that these sections have given you the knowledge and understanding necessary to get out there and find rocks that can bring your very own rock collection sample to life! Once more, make sure to do your research beforehand and consider buying some books such as Collecting Rocks, Germs and Minerals by Patti Polk or Rocks and Minerals of Britain and Europe by Adrian Jones. You could even take a book like this out with you so that you can have an easier time identifying rocks on your first trips out to find samples. With time and practice, you’ll be collecting rock samples with ease and hopefully turning your beginner rock collection into a long-lasting and diverse display of geological treasures!

    Sources

    https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent/planet-earth/how-do-we-read-the-rocks/three-types

    https://www.thoughtco.com/about-igneous-rocks-1438950

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zsg639q/revision/2

    https://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/everyday-innovations/sunglass6.htm

    http://thefieldstudent.com/best-rock-hammers/

    https://howtofindrocks.com/rock-hammer-vs-brick-hammer/

    https://www.geolsoc.org.uk/ks3/gsl/education/resources/rockcycle/page3525.html

    https://www.britannica.com/science/Lewisian-Complex

    http://www.collecting-rocks-and-minerals.com/geological-tools.html

    https://manual.museum.wa.gov.au/book/export/html/47

    https://www.granitegold.com/how-to-clean-different-types-of-stone/

    https://www.catawiki.com/stories/5193-is-it-legal-to-collect-fossils-and-minerals-our-expert-advises

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