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More Precious Metals Details


From its first discovery, pyrite has confounded many a prospector and can still appear as gold.

The “Fool’s Gold” of Precious Metals

Pyrite is an iron sulfide mineral that gets its name from the Greek word “pyr” meaning fire.  Its common name is “fool’s gold.”  Pyrite is linked to the ancient art of alchemy, a mixture of science, magic, and religion practiced in Europe and Asia for over fifteen hundred years.  

pyrite crystals
Crystals of pyrite. Photo by Hannes Grobe.

North American Indians also believed that pyrite had magical powers and their shamans used it in medicinal rituals. When crushed to a powder, pyrite smells faintly of sulfur—the smell of rotten eggs or burnt matches.  Because of its sulfuric smell and sulfur’s connection with depictions of hell, cubic crystals of pyrite are also known as “devil’s dice.”

It is easy to confuse gold and pyrite.  In nature, the two minerals are frequently associated, and ironically, much of the world’s gold is found in pyrite.  However, weight will always distinguish gold; with the exception of platinum, it is the heaviest metal.

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