Historical information

Sphalerite or sphaelerite is named from the Greek word for 'treacherous' or 'deceiver' as specimens can vary widely in appearance, making them hard to visually identify. It is a zinc sulfide with the chemical composition (Zn,Fe)S, the most important ore of zinc. Specimens of sphalerite can contain iron as a substitute for up to 25% of the usual zinc present, as well as trace elements of gallium, cadmium, geranium and indium. Small amounts of arsenic and manganese may also be detected.

Sphalerite is found in igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. It forms when carbonate rock encounters acidic, zinc-bearing fluid. It often forms in veins or in fissures of the existing rock, with colours and crystal shapes dependent on the composition of the the combining elements. It forms isometric crystal shapes including cubes, tetrahedrons, octahedrons, dodecahedrons.

This specimen was collected in approximately 1852, in Broken Hill, NSW, as an adjunct to the Geological Survey of Victoria. It was donated to the Museum in 1868. Victoria and other regions of Australia were surveyed for sites of potential mineral wealth throughout the 19th Century. The identification of sites containing valuable commodities such as gold, iron ore and gemstones in a locality had the potential to shape the development and history of communities and industries in the area. The discovery of gold in Victoria, for instance, had a significant influence on the development of the area now known as 'the goldfields', including Beechworth; the city of Melbourne and Victoria as a whole.


The specimen is significant as an examples of surveying activity undertaken to assess and direct the development of the mineral resource industries in Victoria and Australia, as well as the movement to expand human knowledge of earth sciences such as mineralogy and geology in the nineteenth century.

Physical description

A pipe-shaped specimen of sulfide-mineral zinc ore displaying patches of black, brown, beige and gold colouring. The main item has associated broken pieces.