Beyond the Sandcastle

Quartz sandstone at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History

I have fond memories of dribbling a slurry of sand and seawater out of my fist, through the nozzle of my fingertips, to create sandcastles at the beach. The resulting constructions was Gaudiesque and baroque, but the oddly organic quality of the forms generated that way were deeply satisfying. They were both alien and familiar.

So it was with a mild shock of recognition that I encountered the object shown here in the Hall of Gems at the Natural History Museum. It’s at the other side of the main Hall of Gems room (which holds the Hope Diamond) from a huge, but entirely conventional-looking quartz crystal.

Amazingly, this thing is quartz too, but in this case it’s quartz sandstone. Imagine a beach of tremendously fine quartz sand becoming compressed, the crystals interlocking in non-crystaline ways, and then being subject to erosion or extrusion or some combination of both. This was the result.

It is a very curious object indeed.

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One Response to Beyond the Sandcastle
  1. Patrick Collier
    December 30, 2010 | 2:17 am

    Were I to imagine the seven dwarfs from Disney’s “Snow White” in an erotic tussle, it would no doubt look something like this. And which one is Grumpy?