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   from the issue of November 16, 2006

Geologist explores formation, beauty of agates


A new book by a UNL geologist and others provides a primer on the origins, structures, uses and collecting of agates.


The British Museum of Natural History, one of the most prestigious in the world, published "Agates - Treasures of the Earth" in the United Kingdom in June and released it in North America this fall.

Agates are gemstones that are among the most beautiful on the planet. They often have rich coloring and banding that resembles abstract art. They have been highly prized for millennia, but their origins and distribution have generally not been well understood until about the last 50 years.

Roger Pabian, a retired geologist with UNL's School of Natural Resources and the book's lead author, has advanced the understanding of agates as much as any scientist in the world, according to the British museum, and so was chosen by the museum to head up the writing. He and co-authors Brian Jackson, head of mineralogy at the National Museums of Scotland; Peter Tandy, curator in mineralogy at the British museum; and John Cromartie, an expert on Scottish agates, have created an encyclopedic guide to agates worldwide and through history.



"I wanted to connect the scientific, historical, cultural and artistic material and get it under one cover," Pabian said. "My interest in agates goes back to my freshman year in college. A friend let me cut and polish a Mexican agate, and I became fascinated with them."

Soon after Pabian retired, the museum contacted him about writing the first complete handbook on agates as part of its series on precious or popular minerals. It also includes books on diamonds, gold, amber, crystals and other gemstones.

As he began researching them, the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources researcher noticed that the published material didn't agree with what he saw in the field, he said. In particular, he began to work out the conditions common to their formation across volcanic, marine and continental sedimentary environments.

The 184-page book is illustrated with photographs and diagrams on nearly every page. After notes on mineralogical, geological, trade and colloquial names of agates, the book explores their formation, mineralogy and visual properties, especially coloring, veining and other inclusions, and explains how these eye-catching properties are formed.

The main part of the book explores, region by region, where in the world they are found, the geological environments in which they occur and the history of the use of each type of agate. One of these areas is in far northwestern Nebraska and eastern Wyoming, where so-called blue agate, Nebraska's state gem, is found in the Chadron Formation of the Oligocene age.

"Agates - Treasures of the Earth" is available through the School of Natural Resources for $35 (item MP-48). For more information, go online to or call 472-3471.



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