Historical information

This specimen originated from Mount Lyell on the west coast of Tasmania, where a large group of open cut and underground copper-silver-gold mines began operating in 1883. Between 1893-1994, the Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company were responsible for operations. The Mt Lyell copper-gold mines produce some excellent crystallised specimens of chalcopyrite and other minerals. The deposits are generally considered to be of Cambrian volcanic origin, but there are indications of Devonian granitic influence on the ores, plus local remobilisation during Devonian deformation. Over 120 million tonnes of ore was produced from several workings, including the main Prince Lyell mine and the North Lyell mine, which was also of great importance.

The Mount Lyell mines have a long history of human and environmental disasters, including the 1912 North Lyell fire that killed 42 miners, and two separate incidents in 2013 in which three people lost their lives. The environmental impacts from this complex of mines are extensive, with waste tailings and heavy metal contamination flowing directly into the King and Queen River catchments. In 1954, the eminent Australian historian, Geoffrey Blainey, published 'The Peaks of Lyell' which delves into the history of the 1912 North Mount Lyell Disaster.


Chalcopyrite does not contain the most copper in its structure relative to other minerals, but it is the most important copper ore since it can be found in many localities and occurs in a variety of ore types. The brassy-yellow colours in Chalcopyrite mean it is often confused with pyrites and gold, leading to use of the term, "fool's gold." Chalcopyrite has been the primary ore of copper since smelting began five thousand years ago.

This specimen is part of a larger collection of geological and mineral specimens collected from around Australia (and some parts of the world) and donated to the Burke Museum between 1868-1880. A large percentage of these specimens were collected in Victoria as part of the Geological Survey of Victoria that begun in 1852 (in response to the Gold Rush) to study and map the geology of Victoria. Collecting geological specimens was an important part of mapping and understanding the scientific makeup of the earth. Many of these specimens were sent to research and collecting organisations across Australia, including the Burke Museum, to educate and encourage further study.

Physical description

This hand sized solid mineral specimen has shades of brass-yellow with spots of iridescent green-black tarnish. Chalcopyrite is a copper iron sulphide mineral and a major ore of copper common in sulphide veins and disseminated in igneous rocks. Chalcopyrite has a hardness of 3.5-4 on the Mohs Scale. It is a member of the tetragonal crystal system and has metallic lustre and opaque transparency.