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The Chums of Navajun

Pyrite - Victoria Mine, Navajun, Spain


Introduction: I know the title is a terrible Alistair MacLean pun, but it is hot here today and it was the best I could come up with.

Spanish sellers Baltasar and Elvira at BS Rocks kindly sent me over this short account of one of their recent collecting trips to Navajun. 

Many thanks to Baltasar Sanchez & Robert Marc Friedman for their words below.


This single aesthetic highly-lustrous perfect-cube pyrite firmly sitting in matrix (without chemical means) was recently collected at the famous Vitoria pyrite mine in Navajún, Rioja, Spain.

This specimen is rightly being offered on eRocks as the story behind it is very much one connected with the auction website. Here then is an example – surely one of many – of how eRocks helps establish networks of mineral enthusiasts across national borders and facilitates the creation of friendships that would have been otherwise inconceivable to attain.

The late May field trip had its unlikely origins in email communications between Elvira at BS Rocks in the Madrid area and a long-time faithful bidder, Robert, an American living in Oslo, Norway. What began as an inquiry about a specimen that had “gotten away” in a recent auction, gradually grew into friendly email discussions about their two nations, their respective lives, and of course also minerals.

Robert, a professor of history of science at University of Oslo, had returned to his childhood hobby of mineral collecting as he began a research project on mineralogist Victor Moritz Goldschmidt, one of the great pioneers in modern geochemistry and crystal chemistry.  With an ever growing collection of Spanish specimens, Robert became fascinated with the geological and geochemical origins of these minerals. Elvira’s training as a mining engineer and Baltasar’s long-time career in mineralogy allowed the start of various email conversations. 

When Robert developed back problems in 2017 they followed his fate, and sent messages of friendship when he underwent a major operation in May.  A subsequent minor follow-up operation in December occasioned a life-threatening bacterial infection and long-term hospitalization. This prompted Elvira and Baltasar to send a “get-well-soon” message in the form of an invitation to join them in the Spring on a trip to Navajún. And thus five months later and still recovering, Robert joined his new Spanish friends for an adventure to La Rioja.
But May 2018 proved to be not exactly as expected, weather-wise. An extended heatwave in southern Norway prompted Robert to claim that Norway was becoming the new Spain, while the cool and rainy weather in central and northern Spain resulted in Elvira sighing that Spain must be the new Scotland. Although the day at the mine was largely sunny, the recent rains resulted in the matrix material on the ground frequently crumbling upon being touched; sometimes it seemed as if even a long stare resulted in pyrite cubes falling from the disintegrating marl. 

A day at the mine - on top beating rocks!


Still, Robert managed four delightful hours largely on his knees working largely with a sledge hammer and chisel on the face of the pyrite strata. Elvira, Baltasar and the two others in their group, Emilio and Fabri, spread out over the area allowed for visitors. Even for those who have read about the mine in accounts by other collectors cannot avoid a sense of a magical landscape. Small pyrites, glittering in the sunshine, dot the ground: a breath-taking multitude of geological wildflowers matching the unending number of bright red poppies that bordered the road up to the mine. Scores of oxidized cubes of various sizes could be picked out from the sand near the parking area (various rust removing liquids based on acid restores the pristine blank shiny gold colour), but of course the best crystals need to be obtained from large blocks of the pyrite laden strata on the ground or from the walls of the mine. A sense of frustration is also inevitable. We were allowed to watch those men working for Pedro Ansorena, the mine owner, in the areas off-limits to collectors.

Going Underground at Victoria Mine - Men At Work


Even from a distance, we could see the large perfect shiny cubes sticking out from the walls. As the saying goes, you can look, but you can’t touch – at least not with our hammers and chisels. Still, as Robert experienced for the first time, collecting in the field, learning to read the wall of the mine for signs where to place the sharp edge of the chisel, and finally using more sensitive tools along with buckets of patience to expose and safely extract crystals becomes a form of intoxication, if not addiction. As others before him, he learned the aggravation of working away for ten, fifteen minutes to withdraw a group of connected crystals only to have them break apart at the last moment. But disappointment made success even more jubilant. Like the others in the party who were more experienced, he also finally obtained a number of perfect 2-3 cm cubes and interconnected cubes all without striations as well as some fine cubes in matrix. 

Robert was invited home as a guest and the friendship extended to the rest of the BS Rocks family.

Elvira, Robert and Baltasar at Victoria Mine Entrance


Will they make further trips together to Spanish mines and meet regularly at the annual mineral fair in Madrid?


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Submitted by robertmfr on
In the last photo, the Chums of Navajun are, from left ti right: Elvira, Robert, and Baltasar. Gracias.

Submitted by admin on
Thanks for the feedback - I think you may have been looking at an old cached page - I had updated the previous day after checking with Baltasar. This is why the change was "quick as a wink"