Dinosaur Aged Amber from the Sayreville New Jersey Clay Pits

Article and Photos by Paul Cyr- eonphader@hotmail.com

New Jersey is no stranger to geological anomaly. Most American rockhounds are familiar with the fluorescent minerals of Franklin and Sterling Hill, and thousands of people from around the globe have graced their collection cabinets with prehnite and other traprock minerals of the Watchung mountains, giving a classic “old school” scientific feel to that shelf of the display. New Jersey has also produced its fair share of paleontological specimens, including many holotypes and species completely new to science. Some of the most interesting finds include gem grade amber with insect inclusions from the Sayreville and Cliffwood Beach areas.

Insect inclusion in a large polished piece of Sayreville amber collected December 3, 1995. FOV 7mm.

Insect inclusion in a large polished piece of Sayreville amber collected December 3, 1995. FOV 7mm.

The amber occurs within the lignite peat layer above the deep deposits of the South Amboy Fire Clay. The New Jersey amber is the oldest in the Americas with insect inclusions. From this amber, researchers have discovered several new species of ants, including the oldest ones ever documented, giving new branches in the evolutionary line of ants. According to a paper by the American Museum of Natural History researchers, there are a dozen or more amber producing localities in and around Sayreville, but here will will focus on one. In the 1990’s, this locality was monitored by the research department of the AMNH. This study accumulated hundreds of pounds of amber from the Sayreville area, including thousands of specimens with insect inclusions. This was a part of a grand study involving insects included in amber from all over the world. Through this research, many new species of insects were added to taxonomy. Did we mention there is pyrite too?

A nice sized piece of gem amber on clay matrix, with lignite. Fresh harvest.

A nice sized piece of gem amber on clay matrix, with lignite. Fresh harvest.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Amber, Pyrite and Lignite in one specimen. With some careful transport tactics, examples like this can be preserved.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Amber, Pyrite and Lignite in one specimen. With some careful transport tactics, examples like this can be preserved.

You can find the author Paul, along with the website owner, Justin Zzyzx, at the Edison New Jersey Mineral Show – April 7-9th 2017 It is a CAN NOT MISS Event- Click the Banner and sign up for the mailing list for more information!
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For tools, it is recommended to bring various shovels, picks, small metal rakes, and other digging and scraping apparatus. The porous, but thick and sandy clay behaves differently depending on how wet it is, so you may want to try a few different tools to figure out what works for you. Bring a small plastic vial or jar to keep your amber isolated and safe.
If you have nothing else, a nearly empty plastic water bottle with a bit of liquid left in it will keep your amber safe, and clean it up a bit too.

Fully prepared, gem grade amber pendant shows off a warm glow in sunlight.

Fully prepared, gem grade amber pendant shows off a warm glow in sunlight.

In my experience, most of the pyrite is found on the surface, and appears to form due to the iron and sulfur nucleating in the center of the puddles in the cracked clay mud. The pyrite is mostly unstable, and will quickly lose its luster and begin to disintegrate if special precautions are not taken. The main key is to keep it completely dry. I have heard that putting it in a cool oven can help remove all moisture. I have used 3-in1 oil to give them a day dip, and take them out to dry. After the pyrite nodule is dry, apply a few layers of spray acrylic. Unfortunately, only a few of my specimens have held up to this point, but they are unique items in our inventory. Some post-pyrite secondaries seem to be found in microcrystals on some of the pyrites as they alter in the weather. Melanterite and jarosite may be present. More research needs to be done on the pyrite alteration at this locality.

No pyrite in the tire, I checked.

No pyrite in the tire, I checked.

The amber can be founded in small rounded grains along the surface. If you are looking for the large pieces with insect inclusions, you’ll have to dig. The lignite layer is a few feet down (I have heard anywhere from 4 to 9 feet subsurface). Lignite is the precursor to coal, and looks almost exactly like burnt wood. When you get down to this level, you are on the right track. In and around the lignite, you should be able to find evidence of amber soon enough. A nice sized piece with an insect inclusion could be the reward for your hard work.

Fresh amber in the field.

Fresh amber in the field.

Same pile of amber after first cleaning.

Same pile of amber after first cleaning.

Closeup of the amber.

Closeup of the amber.

Plant matter within the amber has been found to be in the juniper family. The lignite peat deposits were probably formed by ancient coastal cedar swamps. The age of this amber has been recorded from 90-92 million years old, in the midst of the Cretaceous Period. Amazing that something so fragile can still exist! This is one of, if not the ONLY locality that produces amber from the same time as the dinosaurs. If Jurassic Park was to happen, we would be thanking New Jersey amber for the DNA. Some of the forms are stalactitic, showing evidence of where it dripped from the tree. It is remarkable to find such objects. Some of the amber is opaque and looks like tan to brown wood opal, with similar luster and conchoidal fracture. The amber ranges from a yellow-hued honey color to a rich cherry red, and can also be brown. It is transparent when wet or polished, making for a beautiful finished product when worked. One gentleman has told me that if you have a big and stable enough piece, it can be polished with a toothbrush and toothpaste- but it takes quite a while. I have a specimen he polished this way in my personal collection. It is almost an inch tall and has a distinct and complete winged insect inclusion. It is one of the treasures of my New Jersey collection.

It's fluorescent. Most of the amber glows brightly in standard longwave UV light.

It’s fluorescent. Most of the amber glows brightly in standard longwave UV light.

To get there, plug in Lakeview Drive Sayreville, NJ into your GPS. When you get on this road, you will be in an apartment complex. Keep following to the end of the road, and park in the little cul-de-sac conveniently located at the trail head. The trail may look enticing, but avoid it unless you plan on exploring for possible separate amber pits. On the left side of the path, climb up the hill right next to the parking area and cross the railroad tracks. You’ll come to the other side where there is a trail. Make a left onto the trail, soon the terrain will flatten. Walk a few hundred feet down, and look for a dip in the brush on the right side. It is crude getting in to the pits, and ticks can be plentiful- use caution.

The Railroad to Amber. Cross over here. Beware of trains.

The Railroad to Amber. Cross over here. Beware of trains.

Ramble through the deer trails- a shovel or sifter can act as a shield through the thicket. Out in this stretch of bush you’ll reach the mud pits, dotted with amber and pyrite to the discerning eye. You may want to check a satellite view on Google Earth for a precise look at the field.

You've made it. Welcome to the locality.

You’ve made it. Welcome to the locality.

A happy amber collector enjoying the ancient fruits of the labor.

A happy amber collector enjoying the ancient fruits of the labor.

This locality is known for its aesthetic cracked mud.

This locality is known for its aesthetic cracked mud.

For lunch, I recommend White Castle in Parlin- new veggie burgers are delish! Good luck, and email me if you find anything substantial! Paul Cyr- eonphader@hotmail.com – you can also find Paul and his minerals for sale on Facebook – at the Deep Seeded Trading Post

This video will give you a visual idea of what to expect at the location

Collect Amber and Pyrite in Sayreville New Jersey created by Justin Zzyzx in 2005, now hosted on Vimeo.

Again, don’t forget to sign up for the mailing list for this great rock and mineral show in Edison New Jersey, one of the biggest shows in the United States!
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Franklin New Jersey, a Mineral Wonderland

Franklin is a town in Northern New Jersey that has been a fixture in the mineral world for well over a century. Our friend Vandall King has been hard at work for several years on an informative book on the subject.

Instead of us rehashing the subject, we want to showcase the four videos that have been produced to talk about the project and the subject. We are sure you’ll want to pick up the book when it is released – until then, enjoy these videos! If you enjoy them, please leave a comment on the videos and give them a thumbs up.


Franklin Video 1


Franklin Video 2


Franklin Video 3


Franklin Video 4

You will be sure to find out when the book is released as we will be certain to tell you here on WhereToFindRocks.com!

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Red Jasper and Celestite Geode Specimens found near Hanksville Utah

Every year we look forward to visiting one of the most beautiful places in the world, the San Rafael Swell, a series of sandstone, shale and limestone that has been worn down by erosion by water, air and time.

San Rafael Swell landscape

A group of rain clouds hangs in the air above the dramatic rock formations of the San Rafael Swell

One of the best things is that the collecting locations are fairly close to highway 70, a road we travel every year in order to go back and forth from California to Colorado for the annual Denver Mineral Show, which is taking place as I type this.

For rockhounds and lapidary artists, the bountiful red/yellow jasper found in this area is worth stopping for. The jasper nuggets are found with a bubbly rind, colors caused by iron oxides, accepting a fine polish.

Red and Yellow Jasper with a bubbly rind, found near interstate 70 in central Utah.

Red and Yellow Jasper with a bubbly rind, found near interstate 70 in central Utah.

Bubbly Red Jasper Rind on a Crystal Filled Geode

Bubbly Red Jasper Rind on a Crystal Filled Geode

There are several areas to collect jasper, as you can see on this map, the two main areas are directly south of I-70, both accessible with a standard passenger vehicle. The first location is just north of a dirt road you enter heading West, .7 mile from the exit on route 24. The next location is on a dirt road heading east 4.2 miles from I-70, or 3.5 miles from the first dirt road.

map to jasper locations near hanskville utah

Two Jasper locations off highway 24, just south of interstate 70

The exciting thing to find while out looking for jasper are thin walled geodes with crystals of celestite, calcite and quartz inside. By gently splitting along the cracks in the walls of the geodes, you can find bright blue crystals of celestite, up to 4.5 cm, along with calcite in various forms and colors and druzy quartz, sometimes with an amethystine color.

Celestite Crystals inside a geode of Red Jasper

Celestite Crystals inside a geode of Red Jasper

Thin blades of Calcite forming on the inside of a red jasper geode

Thin blades of Calcite forming on the inside of a red jasper geode

The geodes are created due to the fact that they were originally filled with anhydrite, which then dissolved, mixed along with the marine sediments, giving the proper environment for celestite to form. The celestite in this area used to be mined commercially back when celestite was in demand. Now, there is very little demand for the raw material, which can be sourced very cheaply from sources around the world. The celesite is now mined for mineral specimens, sporadically.

Orange Calcite crystals with Blue Celestite crystals from the Swell

Orange Calcite crystals with Blue Celestite crystals from the Swell

Gray sparkling Quartz in a Jasper Nodule

Gray sparkling Quartz in a Jasper Nodule

When looking for these jasper geodes, you can often tell if there are crystals inside by the weight. Be careful not to shake the geodes violently, as loose crystals can smack into the crystals attached on the matrix. You most certainly do not want to smash these geodes open with a hammer, you can typically find a crack or fissure in the wall and pry it open with a screwdriver.

Utah is a beautiful place. This remote, yet, heavily traveled, area of the world, is a perfect reason to stop and stretch your legs! I hope you enjoy a trip to this area at least once in your life!

Cover of the Rocks and Minerals issue with a very well written article about the Celestite Geodes of The San Rafael Swell.

Cover of the Rocks and Minerals issue with a very well written article about the Celestite Geodes of The San Rafael Swell.

We highly suggest this issue of Rocks & Minerals photographed above. Rocks & Minerals is well worth subscribing to, they are one of the best mineral magazines ever printed.

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The Springfield Massachusetts Dazzling Mineral Displays!

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Overhead shot of the 2007 East Coast Mineral Show in West Springfield, Mass

Overhead shot of the 2007 East Coast Mineral Show in West Springfield, Mass

For many years the East Coast show followed the usual club show format, with a variety of collectors and dealers being invited to display each year. Under those conditions, the quality of displays can be unpredictable and sometimes disappointing. The first year with a special theme was 1998, when Illinois minerals were displayed by Roy Smith, Ross Lillie, and Tom Weisner.

Fredrick Wilda East Coast Mineral Display Case of Rhodochrosite

Fredrick Wilda East Coast Mineral Display Case of Rhodochrosite from 2012

The single (or limited) exhibitor theme was viewed as a way to be different from most other shows. It has given visitors a chance to view many private collections that are seldom on display to any extent. Private collectors and museums have enthusiastically participated since the start. The exhibitors seem to enjoy the challenge of displaying, and the chance to share their collections. For the EC staff, it is much easier to coordinate with just one or a few individuals. The “special exhibitor” program has been a win-win situation all around.

EAST COAST GEM AND
MINERAL SHOW EXHIBITORS

  • 1998 – Illinois – Smith, Lillie, Weisner
  • 1999 – Martin Zinn Collection
  • 2000 – David Bunk Collection
  • 2001 – Arizona – Presmyk & Jones
  • 2002 – Jim & Dawn Minette Collection
  • 2003 – Rock Currier Collection
  • 2004 – Dan & Dianne Kile Collection
  • 2005 – Harvard Mineral Museum
  • 2006 – Michigan Tech/Seaman Museum
  • 2007 – Sterling Hill Mining Museum
  • 2008 – Herb & Monika Obodda Collection
  • 2009 – Gail & Jim Spann Collection
  • 2010 – Bill Larson, Pala International
  • 2011 – Scott Rudolph Collection
  • 2012 – Frederick Wilda, Mineral Art
  • 2013 – Carolyn Manchester Collection
  • 2014 – California Collectors & Collections
  • 2015 – Martin Zinn New Mineral Collection
  • 2016 – Peter Megaw Collection
  • Glossy Smithsonite Specimens from the Gail and Jim Spann Collection, on display in 2009

    Glossy Smithsonite Specimens from the Gail and Jim Spann Collection, on display in 2009

    This year features free public lectures by Bob Jones, Peter Megaw and Kevin Downey on a variety of subjects – Admission is $8, you can save $2.00 with this coupon link. The event is at the Better Living Center and runs August 12, 13 and 14. There are nearly 100 dealers to buy from and the Mexican Mineral Collection on display, by Peter Megaw is an amazing chance to see a private collection that will show you beautiful top quality minerals from all around Mexico. The colors, shapes and forms of these classic minerals will astound you! Find out everything you need to know on the MZ Expos website, MZExpos.com

    Herb Obboda traveled in the Afghanistan and Pakistan mountains in search for the very finest crystallized minerals found in those rich deposits.

    Herb Obodda traveled in the Afghanistan and Pakistan mountains in search for the very finest crystallized minerals found in those rich deposits.

    2011 had the Scott Rudolph collection, featuring this AMAZING Rhodochrosite from Colorado

    2011 had the Scott Rudolph collection, featuring this AMAZING Rhodochrosite from Colorado

    2008 Herb and Monika Obodda Collection

    2008 Herb and Monika Obodda Collection

    Amethyst Clusters from Mexico from the Artist Frederick Wilda, 2012

    Amethyst Clusters from Mexico from the Artist Frederick Wilda, 2012

    2009 Display Case from the Gail and Jim Spann Collection

    2009 Display Case from the Gail and Jim Spann Collection

    Bill Larson's collection is rich with history and american classics, like these pegmatite minerals

    Bill Larson’s collection is rich with history and american classics, like these pegmatite minerals

    Beautiful Malachite Slices from the American Classics of Bill Larson/Pala display in 2011

    Beautiful Malachite Slices from the American Classics of Bill Larson/Pala display in 2011

    Scott Rudolph's collection from 2011 featuring this beautiful Diopside on Graphite.

    Scott Rudolph’s collection from 2011 featuring this beautiful Diopside on Graphite.


    Photos by Cindy Rzonca

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    Rockhounding is a great hobby, rewarding and full of adventure. Few people know that to progress in knowledge about this hobby is easy as can be, it just take a little bit of reading and we have the perfect selection of books to talk about today, ones that will give you a full understanding of minerals.

    All of these books were written by Captain John Sinkankas, a well noted and respected author who has a way of explaining things that many thousands of people have enjoyed and understood.

    The most important thing about this article is the perception of mineral information, versus the reality. Guidebooks like the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Rocks or the handy Smithsonian Handbook, well, they just do not do a good enough job, in our opinion. Sure, they are colorful and glossy, most starting collectors will have one or the other at some point in their life. However, if you have more than just a passing curiosity about rocks and minerals, there is a better way.

    Cover of the Book Mineralogy

    John Sinkanas’ book “Mineralogy” is our #1 pick for must have mineral books



    Mineralogy
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    Cover of the book, Gem Cutting: A Lapidary's Manual, by John Sinkankas

    Gem Cutting: A Lapidary’s Manual, by John Sinkankas



    Gem Cutting: A Lapidary’s Manual
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    Book cover of Prospecting for Gemstones and Minerals

    Prospecting for Gemstones and Minerals is the best book to teach you about mineral collecting


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    All three of these books are easy to read and understand, teach you the basics and the nuances of each subject are highlighted and explained. To read and understand these three books is to have a near complete general knowledge on this subject of rock and mineral collecting.

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