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Ammolite named official gemstone of Alberta

Government says iridescent gemstone mined only in southwestern Alberta part of province's identity
Ammolite can come in an array of one or more iridescent shades of blue, green, red, yellow, violet and orange. Photo supplied.

Alberta’s government is designating ammolite as the official gemstone of Alberta.

Ammolite is a rare, opal-like organic gemstone found primarily along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains of North America-in fact, all the world's commercial production comes from a small area along the St. Mary River in southwestern Alberta. In iridescent shades of blue, green, red, yellow, violet and orange, ammolite is made of the fossilized shells of ammonites (shelled cephalopods that died out about 66 million years ago).

Ammolite is a trade name given to a thin iridescent aragonite shell material that is found on two species of extinct ammonite fossils (Placenticeras meeki and Placenticeras intercalare). After sinking to the seabed, the mud that covered ammonites hardened over millions of years to become shale. The shell properties, combined with southern Alberta’s unique geology, transformed many ammonite shells into the ammolite that is mined and used for jewellery today.

“I am glad to see Ammolite join the Wild Rose, Rough Fescue and Lodgepole Pine," said Nicole Goehring, NDP Critic for Culture. "Each emblem symbolizes and showcases a unique aspect of our province."

Dr. Craig Scott, director of preservation and research at Alberta's Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, says as the province is world renowned for its fossil resources, the designation of ammolite as Alberta's official gemstone only adds to this reputation.

Ammonite shells have also been collected by Plains First Nations for a thousand years, and are still collected by Blackfoot communities for sacred purposes. 

Ammolite 101

The fossilized remains of plants and animals are protected under the Government of Alberta’s Historical Resources Act

While the Historical Resources Act establishes the Government of Alberta as the owner of all palaeontological resources in the province, some fossils—including ammonite shell, petrified wood, leaf impressions, and oyster shell—are eligible for transfer to private ownership.

Lethbridge named ammolite its official gemstone in 2007.

Ammolite can be legally purchased.

Ammolite mining takes place in the Bearpaw Formation, which used to be the Bearpaw Sea of the Western Interior Seaway. This formation extends from Alberta to Saskatchewan and into Montana. Commercial extraction occurs only in Alberta due to the superior grade of gem found in this region.

For more information, visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum.