Innovative uses of minerals have helped advance civilizations, making devices like computer chips and satellites possible. Copper, one of the first metals ever used by humans, is also used for wires, cookware, pipes, and in versatile alloys like bronze and brass.
Gems and Minerals Unearthed
Where molten rock cools and salt water evaporates, minerals form. These dynamic processes create incredible minerals diverse in color and texture. From silver and copper to amethyst and azurite, they’re as essential to our daily lives as they are brilliant and beautiful.
In this colorful exhibit, touch sparkling specimens, see a giant quartz crystal up close, and discover minerals that glow fluorescent under UV light. Learn about minerals in your everyday life, present in products from smartphones to toothpaste, and be inspired by the beauty and creativity of dazzling gems and decorative objects from our anthropology collection.
From the Earth to Your Home
What a Gem
It’s easy to forget that the gems we see used in jewelry and decorative art—faceted, polished, and sparkly—come from deep within the Earth. For thousands of years, people have shaped and polished them, developing tools to work the hard minerals into rare treasures.
Some minerals always stay true to their color, but others vary based on the presence of other elements or minerals. Both the dark blue azurite and green malachite above get their deep, rich color from copper.
Living With Minerals
They may not be alive, but minerals play a vital role in the lives of other organisms. Plants and animals also make minerals, and some marine organisms like diatoms, corals, sponges, and mollusks build their shells and skeletons out of them.