Saturday, August 7, 2010


Recently a friend from Gloucester expressed an interest in stone carving mentioning soapstone. I had visited several sites over the years that also included a couple (there are four in Massachusetts) used by Native Americans for pottery. All this rekindled an interest in my second favorite rock soapstone (conglomerate being the first) or its more 'scientific' name: steatite.

Modern day geologic bedrock maps show the existence of bodies of ultramafic rocks mentioning some as talc sites. Historically, they have been labeled as soapstone. These bodies extend roughly along the area of the Berkshire County border with Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin Counties, and indeed one big old mine has become a habitat for bats.

But on this particular day, I revisited a massive open cut quarry in the southwest portions of Hampshire County. A damp, bug infested old hole it remains much as I remerged it some years ago. Obvious signs of people carving and hammering on the rock exist. But most of what exists as the 'greasy-feeling' rock soapstone is know for, is a crumbly schisty rock.

In the immediate area I investigated a similar mass marked on the geologic map but it looked to be a very small quarrying operation. Any signs of those operations seem obliterated but some minor ledge is exposed in the area.

The trip home brought me by way of the Middle Branch Westfield River where once again the geologic map indicated the presence of ultramafic rock. Although I somewhat confirmed the rocks exist, almost none of it really qualified as talc - or soapstone.