- Location & History
Strontian - Minerals
Strontian - Mines
Strontian is a small village in the county
of Argyll, attractively located on Loch Sunart in the
western Highlands of Scotland. It is also situated close
to the mouth of the Great Glen and the island of Mull.
The name, Strontian, derives from the Scots Gaelic
Mining at Strontian
Between 1722 and 1904, silver, lead and zinc
were extracted from the mines. Galena was the main ore
mineral on which attention centred during this period.
However, in the 1980s, mining subsequently focused on the
extraction of barite for use in the North Sea oilfields;
the milled barite being used to increase the density of
drilling fluids or "muds" for drilling oil/gas
Over its long and irregular history of mining activities, several areas around Strontian have been exploited, including the Corrantee, Middleshop and Fee Donald Mines from earlier periods, and also the Bellsgrove and Whitesmith Mines - these latter names will resonate with mineral collectors from around the world.
Strontian - A Historical Perspective
Strontian has an important position in the
history of science.
Strontianite is also the first type locality mineral species to have been described from Scotland.
It was not until 1807-1808, however, that Sir Humphrey Davy - a brilliant scientist who is commonly well-known as the inventor of the miners' lamp - and who had previously isolated the elements sodium, potassium, barium, calcium and magnesium - managed, by similar techniques, to isolate the unknown element (strontium) from the new mineral species.
Strontian is also the type locality for the
uncommon, zeolite mineral species - brewsterite, which
also contains strontium.
Adair Crawford has been honoured in more recent years by the naming of the rare mineral species, crawfordite, for him.
First described from the Koashva Mine in the Kola Peninsula in Russia, crawfordite aptly contains the element strontium in its atomic structure. (for more on Adair Crawford, see below).
STRONTIANITE - Whitesmith
Mine, Strontian, Argyll.
The most impressive and typical specimens from Strontian are from the Bellsgrove and Whitesmith Mines and, more recently, the Clashgorm Mine, also known as the Strontian Barite Mine.
Between them, these mines have produced very good quality brewsterite and harmotome specimens - amongst the best for the species ever found anywhere in the world.
The mines have also beent the source of interesting and varied examples of calcite and, very occasionally, some strontianite.
In recent years, various forms of calcite and crystal groups of blocky harmotome crystals have been extracted. Harmotome has also been recovered as micro-crystals in a variety of twinning habits and galena (lead sulphide) and millerite (nickel sulphide) specimens have also been found. A very few Smoky Quartz crystals have also been retrieved in recent years.
Additional minerals, previously not recorded at Strontian, include the rare strontium-bearing mineral, ancylite, as micro-crystals, kainosite - Y, fluorite and, more recently, the hydrous zinc and manganese oxide, woodruffite.
The zeolite mineral, heulandite, (the Strontium-bearing variety/species, Heulandite-Sr), uncommon to Strontian, was also found in 2008 as good crystals. In 2010, a small, limited number of harmotome specimens were retrieved from a fleeting exposure of material, probably from the Bellsgrove Mine, going back over 150 years..
Strontium & Strontianite - Their Discoveries
Strontianite was "discovered" in 1790 by Adair Crawford and named after the locality. He recognized a new mineral, strontianite, (SrCO3, strontium carbonate) in samples of witherite (BaCO3, barium carbonate) and soon realized a new element was also in the composition of this mineral.
There is some debate concerning the early finds of strontianite. Leadhills and Wanlockhead - Scotland's premier mineral location - in its earlier mining days, saw an influx of miners from Strontian. (These miners on occasion settled there and current inhabitants from the Leadhills & Wanlockhead area may often have ties with the Argyll area where Strontian is located).
An early mineral collector, the Rev. Walker, noticed material (strontianite) in the hands of a group of such miners from Strontian in 1761. Three years later, in 1764, more material was "found". Mistaken for witherite, a dealer brought some of this to Edinburgh in 1787.
After examination by Adair Crawford, his proposal of a new element in the mineral's composition was confirmed by Dr. Hope (hopeite).
Strontianite at Strontian
The occurence of strontianite at Strontian, the type locality, is not a common occurence and when it is found, it is often as acicular or crystalline aggregates.
As well-developed, individual crystals, it
The most recent finds of strontianite have been of a pale green colour and of the acicular habit. Brownish tones are also very typical at Strontian. In addition, previously unreported colour-zoned strontianite was found in 2007.
The mineral is vitreous and, apart from the fibrous/ acicular habits, it is also found in a massive form. The mineral is regularly found associated with massive barite or calcite.
Clove brown strontianite was found in early mining days and very limited finds occur nowadays of this material.
Strontianite from Strontian, the type locality, fluoresces in long wave, Ultra-Violet light with a bright lemon or pastel yellow colour.
STRONTIANITE - Whitesmith
Mine, Strontian, Argyll.
STRONTIANITE - Whitesmith Mine,
STRONTIUM - The Element
Economic resources of strontium are almost exclusively obtained from the mineral, celestite, strontium sulphate.
Nevertheless, strontium carbonate is an important product obtained from the treatment of this ore and is widely distributed for use in industry.
Leading strontium-producing nations include Mexico, Spain and China.
Strontium is used in fireworks and flares such as maritime distress flares. It renders a crimson red light on burning. The use of strontium carbonate in the manufacture of television screens and tubes has helped maintain strontium production levels.
The element is also employed in refining zinc and most recently in medicine, for the treatment of osteoporosis.
The Strontium 90 isotope is a harmful, radioactive isotope of Strontium and is produced by nuclear fall-out.
STRONTIANITE - for Collectors
Apart from Strontian, the mineral has also been recorded at other Scottish localities, including Beith, Ayrshire and the Muirshiel Mine, Lochwinnoch, Renfrew. (see Glasgow area).
Other sites of interest to collectors in the UK include the notable North Yorkshire occurences (Merryfield & Gunnerside Gill Mines). (see Pennines).
Farther afield, Germany (Freiburg & St. Andreasburg) and Austria (Oberdorf und Laming) are classic sites for the species. The sulphur mines of Sicily in Italy also produced small crystals. In the USA, the Oak Hill area of Travis County in Texas and Northumberland County in Pennsylvania have also produced some good specimens.
However, perhaps the finest crystallized examples of recent years, most readily available to collectors worldwide, were the specimens from the fluorite deposits of the Rosiclaire area, Illinois, USA.
Born in 1748, in County Antrim (now a county in Northern Ireland), Adair Crawford studied at Glasgow University and also researched in Edinburgh.
From 1777, he practiced as a doctor in Medicine in Edinburgh and in London.
It was in Edinburgh that he pointed out that material thought to be witherite (see above) had incompatible differences with this mineral species.
suggested that it may contain a new "earth"
Adair Crawford, who received a knighthood, died in 1795, in Hampshire (England).
This website wishes to thank for their contributions:
Dr. Stephen Moreton for graciously supplying information regarding strontianite and its discovery.
Dave McCallum, Brian Jackson & Dave Green for the collecting & location photos of Strontian and its mines;
Eddie Lynch (*) for the explanation on the use of barite for the North Sea oil & gas industries.
NB: Permission must be sought beforehand to collect at the site.
References/ Further Reading
of Scotland - (NMS Publishing) A. Livingstone.
- (United Kingdom Journal of Mines &
© Minerals of Scotland.