|This is a crab claw that has been opalised in the same way that petrified wood is. This is a very rare and awesome find. Photo: Peter Cuneo|
Opals are highly sought-after rainbow precious stones that are showcased in jewellery or decorative art.
These are no ordinary fossils (if there is such a thing): these incredible relics are made of solid opal, sometimes with rainbows of shimmering colour.
Opal forms in cavities within rocks. If a cavity has formed because a bone, shell or pinecone was buried in the sand or clay that later became the rock, and conditions are right for opal formation, then the opal forms a fossil replica of the original object that was buried. We get opalised fossils of two kinds:
Opal starts as a solution of silica in water. If the silica solution fills an empty space left by a shell, bone etc that has rotted away – like jelly poured into a mould – it may harden to form an opalised cast of the original object. Most opalised shell fossils areÂ ‘jelly mould’ fossils – the outside shape is beautifully preserved, but the opal inside doesn’t record any of the creature’s internal structure.
2. Internal details preserved:
If the buried organic material hasn’t rotted away and a silica solution soaks into it, when the silica hardens it may form an opal replica of the internal structure of the object. This happens sometimes with wood or bone.
|Opalized freshwater mussel shells, Lightning Ridge, Australia|
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