Saint-PetersburgClear+14°C
$ЦБ:73,28ЦБ:86,63OPEC:44,27

A ’Bread Stone’

апатит
Фото © Thomas Spann

This stone, without which the Kola Peninsula would probably remain a humanless and deserted territory, in Russia is also called a ‘bread stone’ (хлебный камень).

Until the early XX century, no one had known there were vast deposits of this mineral in Russia’s possession. An acute shortage of natural resources in the country became a matter of concern after the collapse of the Russian Empire. Then new authorities came in and turned their eyes to the northern territories that had not yet been thoroughly explored. An expedition was sent to the area that is now a part of Murmansk Oblast, with the primary target being to assess the geological potential of the region. A group of scientists managed to find deposits of green apatite only three years following the start of their trip while being condemned to working all that time in harsh climatic conditions.

апатит
Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

If not for the spoiled food supplies, the discovery might have never happened. The team had to take another route as a result, and there, at the foot of the highest mountain range of Khibiny, large green blocks were found. Ten years from then, the Khibiny Mountains became an extraction area of the highest value to the USSR. Nowadays, one of the four world’s largest apatite deposits are located there, and its production is in demand in more than a hundred countries. Most apatite products are being exported to Africa.

апатит
Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

In its outward appearance, apatite resembles topaz or aquamarine. Yet its value does not come from the lustre of its facets. Neither it has anything to do with the stone's bluish-green colour. Instead, it lies in the mineral's chemical structure. Apatite is a base component of phosphorus-containing apatite ores. Phosphorus, in turn, is a vital element that each living creature’s cells need to exist.

That is why an attempt to use apatite in the manufacture of fertiliser was made. Test results exceeded all expectations: plants grown on the fields that had been previously fertilised yielded a better harvest. Hence the name ‘bread stone’.

апатит
Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

In addition to agricultural crops, apatite positively affects humans and animals as well. Biological apatite, the chemical structure of which slightly differs from the natural one, is known to be the primary inorganic substance forming the skeleton of all vertebrate life forms. Human bone material is mostly comprised of the mineral; bone strength and resilience are attributed to it. Composition of tooth enamel, which is believed to be the hardest part of the human body, is by its structure nearer to natural apatite. With all that said, despite apatite being a source of phosphorus, it is not for oral use since it may lead to severe kidney or bladder failures.

апатит
Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Apatite is not a popular jewellery material due to its low hardness. It becomes cracked if exposed to even a slight physical impact. Then again, there are rare apatite varieties. Likewise, a neon-coloured one from Brazil that the world became aware of some thirty years ago. That variety became so highly valued because of its similarity to Paraíba tourmaline. Yet, the apatite version is significantly cheaper.

апатит
Фото © Parent Géry