Libmonster ID: KZ-1563
Author(s) of the publication: Tursyn NISHANBAEV

by Tursyn NISHANBAEV, Cand. Sc. (Geol. & Mineral.), Head of the Museum of Natural Science of the Ilmen State Reserve (Miass, Chelyabinsk Region)

The first thing we should focus on when speaking about our Museum of Natural Science is a history of studies of the Ilmen Mountains: it is closely connected with the history of formation of our vast collection. It started over 200 years ago, when Russia and Europe learnt of the wealth and originality of the Southern Urals.


Today the Ilmen State Reserve is the oldest environmental state research institution making part of the RAS Ural Branch and one of the first natural reserves established in our country employing 29 research assistants, including 20 candidates of sciences. The reserve is located in the eastern foothills of Southern Ural to the east of Miass. The reserve was established under the Decree of May 14, 1920. The first open show collections of minerals and rocks were formed in 1925. Before 1936, the collections were exhibited on the summer terraces of the Mountain Station. In 1936, a wooden building was built for the Museum of Natural Science, which in 1990 moved to a new building with 6 halls of the total area of 2,050 m2. At present, it is one of the five leading mineralogical museums of Russia and possesses

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one of the biggest national biological dioramas. The museum keeps over 30,000 depository items, 9,000 items are exhibited. It is also an important regional educational center in the field of natural sciences, annually receiving more than 50,000 visitors.

The present-day territory of the reserve covers the Ilmen Range extended for 40 km submeridionally with an absolute relief elevation of 747 m on the Ilmen-Tau Mountain. To the east, not far off, across a peat bog and a valley of the Nyashevka river, there is Kosaya Mountain famous for its veins--amazonite and granite pegmatites*. Here semiprecious stones and rare minerals were mined from time immemorial. Westwards, there is Miass Golden Valley running along the mountain range for many

* Pegmatites--as a rule, acid (or host) intrusive (mostly veinstone) rocks.--Ed.

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tens of kilometers, where the gold nugget Big Triangle, biggest in Russia (36.2 kg), was found; now it is kept at the Kremlin Diamond Fund in Moscow.


The modern Museum of Natural Science, like the reserve, originated in the late 17th century when local residents, miners and officials managing gold mines started gathering the first private collections of minerals of the Ilmen Mountains, among which topazes, or "heavy-weights", were the main decoration. At that time, jewelry with colorless or light blue Ilmen topazes were very popular in the capital.

It is well-known that white mica production was organized in the mid-18th century in the area between Argayash and Chebarkul lakes and on the western slope of Kosaya Mountain. Production works were headed by Colonel Vasily Razderishin, the mica mined was shipped to the Ural iron works. Nevertheless, the Orenburg expedition teams of 1768-1772 led by members of St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1771) Ivan Lepekhin (1740-1802), PyotrSimonPallas(1741-1811) and Swede Johann Peter Falck (1732-1774) did not visit the Ilmen Mountains and mica mines. Pallas in his fundamental work Physikalische Reise durch einige Provinzen d. Russischen Reichs, published in 1768-1770, mentioned in passing mica deposits near the Argayash lake, a short way from Chebarkul fortress. Ivan Lepekhin mapped some lakes located to the east of the Kosaya Mountain.

In 1774, the workman Prutov found topazes in the

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amazonite vein on the South-East bank of the Ilmen Lake near Miass, which triggered a "gem fever": in search of topazes and aquamarines, miners discovered tens of new veins and mined beautiful gems, but no one was ready to focus attention on the mineral diversity of the Ilmen Mountains yet.

It was a period of geographical, industrial and jewelry interest in these places. For example, from the late 18th century till the mid-20th century, in addition to topazes, amazonite (bluish-green variety of potash field spar) was mined there for the Yekaterinburg Lapidary Plant. After the above-mentioned gem fever, there set in an epoch of scientific collections and enriched museums around the world with the mineral wealth of the Ilmen Mountains.


The European scientific mineralogical community showed active interest in the Ilmen Mountains thanks to Johannes Menge from Beaubeiren (Germany), a German mineral collector, member of the Russian Imperial Mineralogical Society, who in 1825 visited the Miass gold mines by order of the German joint-stock company to find diamonds that, as it was already known, accompanied gold in the mines in Brazil. Could they be found in the Miass Golden Valley? He found nothing.

The first diamond was found in the Urals only four years later, in the summer of 1829, by Pavel Popov, and not in the Miass Golden Valley--it was found in the Adolf gold-bearing placer in the Krestovozdvizhenskiye gold fields in the Gornozavodskoy district of the Perm territory.

In the autumn of the same year 1829, the Miass golden placers and Ilmen Mountains were visited by invitation of Emperor Nicholas I (1796-1855) by Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), Honorary Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, a well-known German natural scientist, during his trip to Russia. He celebrated his 60th birth anniversary at Miass; on this occasion the superintendent of the gold fields, and a graduate of the

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Freiber Mining School (the first to pick out the Ural diamond from among Popov's findings--he was visiting Miass at that time) handed this diamond to Alexander von Humboldt, who was traveling in company of Professor Gustav Rose of Berlin University, an expert and venturesome chemist and mineralogist.

Four years earlier, in 1825, while studying a private collection of minerals, the afore-mentioned Johannes Menge found zircon*, which probably had been discovered in a gold placer. He organized exploration works and found a bedrock deposit in the Ilmen Mountains; he also gathered a vast and diverse collection of minerals that included samples unknown even to the scientist.

*Zircon--a mineral of the nesosilicate subgroup, containing, as a rule, 1-4 percent of hafnium, isomorphously replacing zirconium in the crystal lattice.--Ed.

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Menge brought the mineralogical collection to Europe and showed it to prominent European chemists and mineralogists, who got interested in it. Thus that extraordinary man, rather brave for those times, stimulated development of mineralogy, chemistry and crystallography. Almost 167 years after Menge visited the Ilmen Mountains, his grateful descendants living today in Austria established in 1992 a copper memorial plate to commemorate cooperation of Russian and German scientists of those times.

By the way, Johannes Menge published the article "Geognostic Observations Over Ural and Mainly Over the Ilmen Mountains in the Area of the Miass Plant" published in Gorny zhurnal (1826-1827), where he mentioned a vast list of minerals--albite, apophyllite, beryl, garnet ("venisa"), diopside, calcite, magnetite, nepheline ("eleolite"), rutile, sodalite ("dichroite"), scapolite, titanite ("sphene"), topaz, fluorite, fluor-apatite (Saxon "beryl"), zircon, and epidote. It was the first time when

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the scientist described a new mineral named miascite or "Ilmen granite". This name would be later introduced into official use by Gustav Rose himself.

In the meanwhile, scientists discovered new, previously unknown minerals in the collection brought to Europe by Johannes Menge. They were: ilmenite (1827, determined by Gustav Rose and Adolph-Theodor Kupffer), aeschynite (1828, determined by Swedish chemist Jakob Berzelius), monazite (1829, discovered by Johann August Friedrich Breithaupt). Later on, Gustav Rose discovered some other new minerals: cancrinite (1839, in honor of the Finance Minister Egor (Georg Ludwig) Cancrin) and chevkinite (1840), both these minerals are in the collection gathered by the scientist in the Ilmen Mountains during his journey (1829) to the Urals during a joint expedition with Humboldt.


The history of discovery of the samarskite mineral is of special interest. It is a black, radioactive mineral with a resin shine when chipped... But it is this very resin shine concealing nobleness and aristocratic look of the mineral. It is a key mineral ever discovered in the Ilmen Mountains. The mineral was first described by Gustav Rose in 1840. In 1843-1844, it was studied by the Moscow pharmacist and chemist-physiologist Rudolf Hermann from Dresden (1805-1879), who owned the artificial mineral water plant in Russia. He mistakenly determined a new chemical element in this mineral and named it "ilmenium". But in fact, it was a mix of niobic and tantalic acids extracted from samarskite. Its samples were sent to Gustav Rose for studies by Pyotr Yevreinov (1812-1849), Russian Major of the Corps of Mining Engineers. But the volume of the delivered material was not enough for detailed studies. The next "batch" of samples was delivered to Rose by the Chief of Staff of the Corps of Mining Engineers Vasily Samarsky-Bykhovets (1803-1870), and thus the mineral was named in his honor.

Later on, they discovered not one, but two chemical elements in this mineral: samarium and europium. Though ilmenium was never found.


In the 18th century the Ilmen Mountains were actively explored by national geologists, who were in search of mineral deposits and organized special-purpose expeditions to find gold and gem stones. Ivan Lisenko was one of the first field heads in charge of exploration works. In 1828, the expedition led by the shift master*-Pavel Barbot de Marnie, supervisor of the Miassgold mines, found corundum on the eastern slope of the Ilmen Mountains.

In 1830, the shift headed by the mining official Pavel Karpov discovered two rich corundum deposits on the

*Shift master--a mining official of the 14th class according to the Table of Ranks in Russia.--Ed.

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western slope near the village of Selyankino, "where we found crystals of the size and color rarely found ever". Real sapphires! They also found zircon, topaz, beryl, ilmenite, corundum and other deposits.

Meanwhile, in 1835, the party headed by the collegiate secretary Fyodor Blumovskaya opened a new topaz mine in the prospecting shaft made by the geologist Pavel Versilov, known today as Blumovskaya Mine No. 50. Versilov did not notice lucky signs of topaz and gave up his work, which was wrong. Fyodor Blum was more sagacious: he noticed signs and went further. The mine he developed brought beautiful topazes and aquamarines. Until recently (before discovery of the corundum vein in mine No. 298 in 1976), it was the most productive samarskite mine. It was there that the shift master Yelizaveta Revutskaya* and her team (Radium expedition of 1911-1917) headed by the member of St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Sciences Vladimir Vernadsky** mined samarskite. These very samples were later studied by Professor of the Tomsk University Pyotr Orlov (1859-1937), who organized studies of radioactivity of natural objects, in laboratory, and the first twice laureate of the Nobel Prize in physics (1903) and chemistry (1911) Marie Sklodowska-Curie (1867-1934). In

* Yelizaveta Revutskaya (1866-1942)--mineralogist, disciple and assistant to Vladimir Vernadsky at Higher Courses for Women.--Ed.

** See: O. Yanitsky, "Vladimir Vernadsky: Politician, Historian, Public Figure", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2013; V. Volkov, "Pages From Vernadsky's Diary of 1943-1944", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2013.--Ed.

the 1920s, after detailed studies of the Blum's mine structure, the Full Member and Vice-President of the Academy of Sciences Alexander Fersman (1883-1945)* discovered a phenomenon of mineralogical induction and comprehended formation of granite pegmatites.

Thus, summarizing this short and fragmentary story about the history of studies of the Ilmen Mountains in the 19th--early 20th centuries, it may safely be said that exploration and close attention to the Ilmen Mountains resulted in significant scientific discoveries in mineralogy, crystallography, and chemistry. The next period was marked by large-scale petrographic and geological studies carried out concurrently with mineralogical works. We'd like to complete the article with the notable words belonging to the outstanding scientist, Cand. Sc. (Geol. & Mineral.), Vladimir Kryzhanovsky (1881-1947), from his monograph Minerals of the Ilmen Reserve (1949) that are still relevant and up to date: "Are the exploration works in the Ilmen Mountains over?--No, certainly not.--Our common studies of geology, petrography and mineralogy of the Ilmen Mountains revealed numerous gaps in our knowledge. Studies of the Ilmen Mountains should and will go on."

See: R. Balandin, "Poetry in Stone". Science in Russia, No. 6, 2003--Ed.


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