Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
RESOURCE, Manchester:RECENTLY, THERE has been much talk about the financial benefits that Jamaica could enjoy from its deposits of rare-earth elements that are key ingredients for smartphones, computers ,and numerous other high-tech gadgets. And with the Jamaican economy now at rock bottom, it seems that there is also much to gain from the mining of some of our rocks.
According to Dr Errol Miller, geology scholar and principal lecturer at Knox Community College in Manchester, there is much value in some of the rocks embedded in our soil. They are what he refer to as Jamaica's buried treasures, and are actually semi-precious stones that are much sought after overseas.
These rocks started out as trees that were destroyed by volcanic eruptions eons ago. The hot siliceous materials from the volcanic emission seeped into the wood and petrified them, in essence turning them into sedimentary rocks. There are massive deposits in the hills of Clarendon and St Catherine and southern Trelawny.
demand petrified wood
And it seems that Jamaica's deposits are the best in the world. Miller said: "Scientists from all over the world met. They had workshops, seminars, discussions, and they looked at petrified wood from different parts of the world, and they concluded that the Jamaican petrified wood is the best in the world."
The demand overseas for petrified wood is great, and rock collectors from all over the world use these "fascinating fossils" for jewellery, table tops and tiles, the self-described "rock hound", who has an enviable collection himself, told Rural Express during an exhibition in Resource, Manchester, recently.
But this career educator and "perpetual student" was not always the enthusiastic rock collector that he is now. He studied soils and rocks as a student at Jamaica School of Agriculture but did not hit his head on these solid aggregates of minerals. However, in the 1980s, when he was a teacher at Hampton School in St Elizabeth, he attended an Association of Science Teachers of Jamaica National Science Exhibition in Kingston, and was impressed with St Andrew's Mona Prep School's collections of rocks and mineral. He decided he would display rocks and minerals the following year.
He and his students then set out to collect rocks, but he didn't know their names. He consulted one Anthony Porter, chief geologist at Alcan. Porter visited Miller to identify his collection, and subsequently asked him to join the Geological Society of Jamaica. Miller did and started to attend field trips. A pursuit of an MPhil in geology was the next step. The MPhil was upgraded to a PhD for which he did a dissertation on the mineralogy of Rio Minho, Jamaica's longest river.
The man who also has a huge collection of different types of Jamaican limestone, which he said is a valuable, but non-renewable resource, is well aware of the concerns that environmentalists have about limestone and other rock mining.
He said: "We need to utilise the resources for economic benefits, but it must be mined with discretion - utilised with discretion, not with destruction. You don't want to go mine the limestone and destroy the natural environment, so there should be moderation in all things."