JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – James Starnes is my go-to mineral guy for Mississippi. He is with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Now and again, James stumbles upon things that even surprise him. The Mississippi Opal is one of those surprises.
“The play of colors was something that really, really surprised us. Having a gemstone in the state of Mississippi, I mean, we’re known for our fossils. We’re known for other resources. But we’re really, really not known for gemstones. To have a precious gemstone in the state is kind of unusual. Especially something this interesting,” he said.
The Mississippi Opal was found in what geologists call the Catahoula formation. This particular type of rock and sand combination underlies Claiborne County through Copiah County into Hinds, Rankin and Simpson counties back down as far as Jefferson and Adams counties. Deep top soil sits over most of the bed rock in some of these counties, but there is a layer of limestone under a lot of it. Where this limestone breaks the surface and interacts with a creek is where you’ll find a lot of the waterfalls in this part of Mississippi. The opal was found in this type of terrain.
“It’s a sand. In that sandstone, volcanic ash was deposited from out west. In that sandstone is gem-quality opal. We discovered it while doing detailed geological mapping in Claiborne County,” said James.
This is a valuable gemstone. Being found here in Mississippi, there needs to be some designation for it.
“We have a senate bill and a house bill coming out of the tourism committee to make this our state gemstone,” he said.
To geologists, a pile of rocks is already valuable because of the stories they tell if you know how to read them. But to find a real gem in the mix makes it that much easier to get up the next morning and go looking through another pile of rocks.