A look through the microscope at the slab of Patuxent River Stone featured in our title picture makes clear that despite appearances, it is neither agate nor fossilized dinosaur bone. Immediately apparent is an obviously textural rather than cryptocrystalline structure of sandstone metamorphosed into quartzite through tectonic compression.
The official web site (link provided in first paragraph) for this material, which labels it as Patuxent River AGATE, proclaims that a state gemstone should be beautiful, colourful, take a fine polish, be able to be fashioned into jewelry, and very notably be "rare but findable, existing in sufficient quantity to allow for a reasonable source of supply for local artisans." Agatized dinosaur bone is nowhere near that abundant in Maryland if it exists at all. For that matter, as the person responsible for the Maryland Minerals web site, I've never seen any kind of agate that was collected in Maryland and am unaware of any literature regarding its occurrence in the state, except in conjunction with "Patuxent River Stone."
Top help me research this post, a prominent local gem cutter drove me to a pebbly stream not far from I-95 in White Marsh. Twenty years ago, most of this area consisted of sand pits where quartzite pebbles were extensively quarried for construction material. White Marsh lies on the Arundel formation, which runs diagonally through the center of Maryland extending even to the Eastern Shore. Dinosaur fossils have been reported in Arundel Formation deposits, but they consist of neither agate nor quartzite.
We crawled about the stream bed on hands and knees looking for
colourful quartzite pebbles. They were scarce enough that searching for them proved an enjoyable but very easy challenge. Pictured at right are a few that we picked up. A presence of iron speaks for their colour, and no doubt they would polish beautifully.
Meanwhile, Maryland, unlike numerous other states, does not have a State Mineral or a State Rock. Since Maryland was once the world's second leading producer of chromium, a good choice for State Mineral could be chromite. Yet, what better choice for a Maryland State Rock than quartzite? And who is to say that quartzite should not qualify as the State gem if sufficiently graded for colour?
So why does our State Gem continue to be incorrectly touted as agatized dinosaur bone? " Those not into the hobbies could care less," my gem cutter friend replied." Then, requesting for political reasons that I not use his name, he added: "To guys like you and me it's an embarrassment, and even worse, you've got all this false information being passed on to school kids."