The formation of precious opal: Clues from the opalization of bone

Benjamath Pewkliang, Allan Pring, Joël Brugger

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23 Citations (Scopus)


The composition and microstructure of opalized saurian bones (Plesiosaur) from Andamooka, South Australia, have been analyzed and compared to saurian bones that have been partially replaced by magnesian calcite from the same geological formation, north of Coober Pedy, South Australia. Powder X-ray-difftaction analyses show that the opalized bones are composed of opal-AG and quartz. Major- and minor-element XRF analyses show that they are essentially pure SiO2 (88.59 to 92.69 wt%), with minor amounts of Al2O3 (2.02 to 4.41 wt%) and H2O (3.36 to 4.23 wt%). No traces of biogenic apatite remain after opalization. The opal is depleted in all trace elements relative to PAAS. During the formation of the opal, the coarser details of the bone rnicrostructure have been preserved down to the level of the individual osteons (scale of around 100 μm), but the central canals and the boundary area have been enlarged and filled with chalcedony, which postdates opal formation. These chemical and microstructural features are consistent with the opalization process being a secondary replacement after partial replacement of the bone by magnesian calcite. They are also consistent with the opal forming first as a gel in the small cavities left by the osteons, and the individual opal spheres growing as they settle within the gel. Changes in the viscosity of the gel provide a ready explanation for the occurrence of color and potch banding in opals. The indication that opalization is a secondary process after calcification on the Australian opal fields is consistent with a Tertiary age for formation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-149
Number of pages11
JournalCanadian Mineralogist
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Australia
  • Bone
  • Formation
  • Fossilized
  • Gel
  • Opal
  • Replacemeut

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