Soapstone (also known as steatite or soaprock) is a
metamorphic rock, a talc- schist. It is largely composed of the mineral talcand is rich in magnesium. It is produced by dynamothermal metamorphismand metasomatism, which occurs at the areas where tectonic platesare subducted, changing rocks by heat and pressure, with influx of fluids, but without melting. It has been a medium for carving for thousands of years.
Petrologically, soapstone is composed dominantly of
talc, with varying amounts of chlorite and amphiboles (typically tremolite, anthophyllite, and magnesiocummingtonite), and trace to minor FeCr- oxides. It may be schistose or massive. Soapstone is formed by the metamorphism of ultramafic protoliths ("e.g." duniteor serpentinite) and the metasomatismof siliceous dolostones. Pyrophyllite, a mineral very similar to talc is sometimes called soapstone in the generic sense since its physical characteristics and industrial uses are similar,Fact|date=April 2008 and because it is also commonly used as a carving material. However this mineral typically does not have such a soapy feel from which soapstone derives its name.
Physical characteristics and uses
Steatite is relatively soft (because of the high talc content, talc being one on Mohs hardness scale), and may feel soapy when touched, hence the name. Soapstone is used for inlaid designs, sculpture, coasters, and kitchen
countertops and sinks. Traditional Inuitcarvings often use soapstone, and some Native American groups made bowls, cooking slabs, and other objects from soapstone, particularly during the Late Archaic archaeological period. [Sassaman, Kenneth E., "Early Pottery in the Southeast:Tradition and Innovation in Cooking Technology", University of AlabamaPress, 1993 ISBN 0-8173-0670-6] Soapstone is sometimes used for fireplace surrounds and woodstoves because it can absorb and evenly distribute heat while being easy to manufacture. This is found in many upscale Alaskan and Scandinavian homes. It is also used for griddles and other cookware. Generally, suppliers of soapstone counter tops recommend the use of mineral oil to enhance the color of soapstone. Mineral oil, also known as liquid petrolatum, is a by product in the distillation of petroleum when producing gasoline, will not produce the desired darker appearance of black coloration with one application.Fact|date=October 2008 It takes many applications over a long period of time to get to an acceptable difference in the color. Soapstone naturally forms a patina over time, similar to the oxidization process that occurs with other materials like copper.Fact|date=October 2008 A weathered or aged appearance will occur naturally over time as the patina is enhanced. Applying mineral oil will simple darken the appearance of the stone; it will not and does not protect it in any way. Mineral oiling is a strictly cosmetic process.Fact|date=October 2008 Tepe Yahya, an ancient trading city in southeastern Iran, was a centre for the production and distribution of soapstone in the 5th–3rd millennia BC ["Tepe Yahya." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2004. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. 3 Jan. 2004 http://concise.britannica.com/ebc/article-9380473/Tepe-Yahya.] Another instance of use in the ancient world is found in Minoan Creteat the Palace of Knossos, where archaeologicalrecovery has included a magnificent libationtable made of steatite. [ [http://letmespeaktothedriver.com/site/10854/knossos.html#fieldnotes C. Michael Hogan, "Knossos fieldnotes", Modern Antiquarian (2007)] ]
Soapstone has been used in
Indiafor centuries as a soft medium for carving, but unfortunately the world wide demand for soapstone is threatening the habitat of India's tigers. [cite web
title=West's love of talc threatens India's tigers
Hoysala Empiretemples were made from soapstone. [cite web
title=Belur, Halebid and Sravanabelagola
Soapstone is used by welders and fabricators as a marker because, due to its resistance to heat, it remains visible when heat is applied. It has also been used for many years by seamstresses, carpenters, and other craftsmen as a marking tool because its marks are very visible and not permanent. For these purposes, it is often sold in 6 inch long square or round sticks.Fact|date=February 2007 Soapstone is used to create molds for the
Soapstone smoking pipes are found, for example, among Native American Indian artifacts. [Witthoft, J.G., 1949, Stone Pipes of the Historic Cherokees. Southern Indian Studies 1(2):43-62.]
Locally quarried soapstone was used for gravemarkers in 19th century northeast Georgia around Dahlonega and Cleveland, as simple field stone and "slot and tab" tombs.
Soapstone is also a basic stone used to carve Chinese seals.
The term steatite is sometimes used for soapstone. It may also denote also a type of
ceramicmaterial made from soapstone with minor additives and heated to vitrify (to change or make into glassor a glassy substance, especially through heat fusion).Fact|date=March 2008 It is often used as an insulator or housing for electrical components, due to its durability and electrical characteristics and because it can be pressed into complex shapes before firing. Soapstone has been used for loudspeaker cases [ cite web
title=Manufacturer of soapstone loudspeaker
accessdate=2008-07-09] . It was used for beads and seals in ancient civilizations. Steatite undergoes transformations when heated to temperatures of 1000-1200 °C into
enstatiteand cristobalite; in the Mohs scale, this corresponds to an increase in hardness from 1 to 5.5-6.5. [Some Important Aspects of the Harappan Technological Tradition, Bhan KK, Vidale M and Kenoyer JM, in "Indian Archaeology in Retrospect"/edited by S. Settar and Ravi Korisettar, Manohar Press, New Delhi, 2002.]
Kisii stone from
Kenyais a type of pyrophyllite used by the Kisii peopleof the Tabaka Hills in Western Kenya. They use this material to make pots, used to carry fat for massaging into their skin to guard against the elements. They also produce carvings for tourists and for export.
Combarbalite stone, exclusively mined in
Combarbala, Chile, is known for its many colors. While they are not visible during mining, they appear after refining.
Palewa and gorara stones are types of Indian soapstone.
A variety of other regional and marketing names for soapstone are used. [ [http://www.cst.cmich.edu/USERS/DIETR1RV/soapstone.htm GemRocks: Soapstone ] ]
List of minerals
* [http://www.flickr.com/photos/rahul_dutta/sets/72157604365589838/ The sculptures of Belur & Halebid]
* [http://www.csasi.org/1998_october_journal/pg201.htm Ancient soapstone bowl] (The Central States Archaeological Journal)
* [http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2006AM/finalprogram/abstract_111461.htm Soapstone Native American quarries, Maryland] (Geological Society of America)
* [http://antiquity.ac.uk/ProjGall/shaffer/shaffer.html Prehistoric soapstone use in northeastern Maryland] (Antiquity Journal)
* [http://www.arch.dcr.state.nc.us/sites/bluerock.htm The Blue Rock Soapstone Quarry, Yancey County, NC] (North Carolina Office of State Archaeology)
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