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Amateur Geology

Amateur Geology collecting is comprised of the study and collecting rocks, minerals, fossils, and gems. Many times called rock hounding, these pieces can be obtained from their natural habitat or from other collectors and stores.

Below is a terrific introductory article where you can learn the basics and how to get started. You can help grow our learning community by contributing your knowledge to the article. Just click on the edit tab in the wiki article below.

Use the white subtabs above to navigate the other Amateur Geology resources. We have a Amateur Geology forum where you can get your questions & doubts answered, a page with Amateur Geology how-to videos, a page with the best handpicked links to other sites, and a page with the best Amateur Geology books and products.

Good Luck and Have Fun!
Duncan Davis



The hobby of amateur geology, often referred to as rockhounding, goes back quite a far way into the past, but the hobby became the most popular during the years when prospectors began looking for valuable minerals and gemstones for commercial purposes. Although the initial impulse to join the hobby was for financial gain, the reasons have grown considerably since those early days. Although financial gain is always in the minds of those seeking the literal treasures of gems and minerals, more and more people seem to have been drawn to amateur geology for recreational purposes and for the beauty that rocks and minerals provide. It’s also safe to say that the hobby has expanded considerably since the days of gems and minerals because people are now very interested in fossils for the same reason they were seeking gems and minerals.

The main reason for the rise in popularity of amateur geology is that a collection can begin by simply picking up a rock. It doesn’t have to be a diamond or a ruby to be something beautiful and even the smallest can tell the entire history of your home town. Avid rock collectors often use their specimens to learn about petrology, mineralogy and geology as well as skills in the identification and classifying of specimen rocks, and preparing them for display. The hobby can lead naturally into lapidary projects, and also the cutting, polishing, and mounting of gemstones and minerals. The equipment needed to do this includes rock saws and polishers. Many beautiful crystal varieties are typically found in very small samples, which require a good microscope for working with and photographing the specimen. The hobby can be as simple as finding pretty rocks for a windowsill or develop into a detailed and comprehensive museum quality display. There are also many clubs and groups that search for specimens and compare them in a group setting. Information on where to find such groups can be found at libraries, bookstores, and "gem and mineral shows". Tourist information centers and small-town chambers of commerce can also supply valuable local information, but the internet is perhaps the greatest tool in discovering the hobby of amateur geology.

Required Equipment

The great thing about rockhounding is that most people typically start collecting without realizing that they are actually participating in a hobby. Most people will just see a cool rock on the ground and pick it up because it looks nice and they just want to keep it. The fact is, for amateur geologists, it is quite typical to go into the field with little more than perseverance and the best intentions. But then you realize that hunting for rocks is pretty fun, but what exactly are these rocks that you keep collecting. The first, and perhaps simplest, equipment that all rockhounders should carry at all times is a notepad and a pencil. This is simply to write down the date, the place, and commentaries on the excursion and the mineral samples that we have found. It is recommendable to number each of the found samples, as well as to make a card where we will indicate which mineral is and which are their more interesting characteristics. Plus to see these characteristics, especially the smallest identifying factors, a magnifying glass is a fantastic tool that will make those smaller details easier to see, which will make the identification of certain minerals possible.

For the collection of the samples we will need a newspaper in order to surround the units and thus to avoid that they are deteriorated and they spoil. A geologist hammer, or a hammer and a cold chisel or rock chisel, is absolutely essential when you have to break a rock apart to obtain the mineral samples that are wanted to gather. With safety being as important as it is, it is quite important to wear protective goggles to protect the eyes of those possible little fragments that take place when the rocks are broken with the hammer. Trust me, there is nothing worse than having something stuck in your eye. Gloves are another easy safety precaution in order to avoid injuring your hands when manipulating rocks. It’s actually a little silly, but a backpack to load and to take all the tools and the mineral samples found is nice to have because the second you don’t have one is the time you end up carrying pockets of precious rocks for long hikes.

If your search of samples is not simply a hike in search for gems, minerals, fossils ect., but rather a trip into a type of cave or mine that is underground, then we should have certain considerations for safety. Obviously, the first major considerations is to not to go alone. You should always go accompanied into an underground area, and it is being recommendable that the entire group doesn’t enter into the mine at the same time, as it is important that somebody remain waiting outside. The mines that are not in operation are used to undergoing a serious deterioration and in some cases a real risk of collapse can exist, is due to carry far the precautions to the maximum.

For the mineral search within a mine we will need a helmet above all else in order to protect the head of possible landslides, blows with the ceiling of the mine, and other such possible dangers. A lantern will be essential to be able to see and to be able to advance in the penumbra of the mine. To kill two birds with one stone, it is recommended to use a helmet light because it allows the hands to be free at all times plus, the light will always illuminate just in the point where we are glancing at.

What to Do With all these Rocks?

There are a few technical terms advanced pebble puppies need to add to their vocabulary before they decide what to do with their collections. The first one is Trashite, second is Leaverite, and the last is High Grade. The first term “trashite” is a mineral specimen of no absolutely no value. Trashite should always be left at the collecting site without even a second look back, which will make sure it will never interfere with your collection. Leaverite, used as a noun or a verb, means "leave it right where you found it". It is also a specimen you don`t need to waste your time on, but let someone else take it home to their waste pile. High grade is a verb, meaning pick over your collection with a critical eye and select the best pieces, while giving away, selling, swapping, etc. your lesser pieces. High grading is a good practice at the collecting site, too. It prevents you from having piles of Trashite and Leaverite around your yard. As your collection grows, aim for quality, instead of quantity. Your significant others will appreciate it, and you will feel better about your collection that will constantly grow in quality. This also implies that you should display your best pieces, and keep your less attractive pieces put away for safe keeping.


Specimens are also organized, traded, and sold in units called "beer flats". A beer flat is the two-inch tall cardboard box that is discarded after the six-packs have been stocked in the store. The boxes are about 11" x 17" and are ideal for storing all but the largest of your extra specimens. These boxes are so standardized and accepted among rock collectors that you can purchase fold up white paper boxes of various standard sizes that fit into the beer flats. This also leads up to the discussion of the several sizes recognized for collectable specimens. Size counts when you are deciding what and how to collect. If you have unlimited space, you can collect any size you want. The rest of us, however, with limited space, must seriously consider the size of what we collect. In the space that you can keep and display 50 hand specimens, you would be able to keep and display 1000 thumbnail specimens. The various sizes range from Thumbnail, Miniature, Hand, and Cabinet specimens.


Cleaning the rocks you find may be one of the most important and rewarding aspect of the entire hobby. Since the end result of collecting various types of rock is to display them, it only makes sense that your specimens are clean, bright, and shining when you decide to finally show them off. When it comes to different types of minerals found in mines and quarries, they are usually dirty or covered of clays or oxides that disfigure the specimen. It is also common to find minerals covered with layers or mineralization of calcite, quartz or other that we wished to eliminate to obtain the mineral that really interests to us. The suitable method to clean minerals happens to be to submerge them in some type of solution that eliminates these undesired substances either by simply cleaning in clear water, or water mixed with some acid type. Note that the use of acids is extremely dangerous and their use should only be by someone who is trained to do so. The other process is through Rock polishing, which is a lapidary process whereby rough stone is polished and smoothed using simple machines to produce attractive stones often used in jewelry. The most common means is tumble polishing, but there is also vibratory finishing.


Although amateur Geology is a great hobby to get into, and perhaps one of the easiest to get into, it is also one hobby that requires a fair bit of research as you gain more experience. There is actually a big difference between going out and picking up rocks compared to planning a trip to find specific types of rocks. Although it is amateur, it is still geology at its heart, and the ultimate goal within the hobby to learn geology on a smaller scale than someone who goes through a university program to study geology. The fact of the matter is that finding a certain gem, mineral, or fossil is just the start of the hobby because once you get your specimen home, then your real job begins. Once home, the goal is to ultimately determine what it is that you have and the best way to showcase your find. A geode for example is a find that many people dream of because Geodes are essentially rock cavities or vugs with internal crystal formations or concentric banding. The neat thing about geodes is that they look like normal rocks on the outside, but the insides are full of gorgeous crystals. I live in an area where fossils are common if you look hard enough, and their quite frankly isn’t anything more amazing than cracking a rock open to find fossilized materials. On top of everything else, rockhounding is a great way to stay active and see the great outdoors. So not only are you doing something that is a great interest to you, but it is also a great part of a healthy lifestyle.