Alabaster is one of the few natural industrial minerals that enjoys the ornamental adjective. It is also difficult to find exploitable accumulations.
White alabaster which are known in nature are: gypseous alabaster and calcareous alabaster, whose chemical-mineralogical compositions and physical properties are completely different.
The calcareous alabaster consists mainly of calcite (CaSO3) and occurs in fibrous masses, translucent, formed by parallel or concentric growth layers. This type is usually found in alabaster caves or caverns.
The gypseous alabaster, or just white alabaster, is a rare variety of gypsum (CaSO4 · 2H2O) of secondary origin. Its appearance is compact and consists of tiny crystals of gypsum. Its physical properties (translucency, density, hardness, color…) give this kind of alabaster some peculiar ornamental characteristics which are the reasons of its commercialization.
The term “gypsum alabaster” is not synonym of white alabaster, is applied to gypsum with very characteristic microscopic texture, that also has alabaster, but gypsum alabaster does not have his same physical properties.
As seen, the alabaster term is not sufficiently clarified, so there are used for their description two different mineralogies, calcite on one side and gypsum on the other site.
There are constant references in the Old Testament stories about alabaster vessels, known as alabastrons, which were used to keep the unguents of those times. It was commonly believed that the white alabaster could preserve itself from the cold, which made it very dear to contain perfumes and unguents.
Small alabaster bottles were placed in ancient tombs, which often contained sarcophagus carved in white alabaster, Egyptian or Oriental origin.
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