SA Museum identifies world’s first opalised pearls

06 February 2016

opalised pearls

The South Australian Museum has identified what are believed to be the world’s first opalised pearls, unearthed in Coober Pedy.

The pearls have just been tested at Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s Lucas Heights facility using the neutron imaging instrument DINGO. They were identified as pearls by the clear concentric growth bands formed in pearl development.

They were discovered by Dale Price and Tanja Burk from TADA Opals in an area known for opalised shells.

“Finding a natural pearl is strange enough, but finding an opalised pearl is freaky,” said Mr Price.

The Museum’s Head of Earth Sciences, Dr Ben Grguric, said fossilised pearls were very rare but these specimens were the only known example of opalised pearls, likely to be from the Cretaceous period and more than 65 million years old.

“It’s extraordinary that in the vast, moon-like landscape of what was an ancient inland sea these tiny 4mm specimens have been found,” Dr Grguric said.

“What’s even more extraordinary is that opals rarely survive because the organic material in them oxidises. These are the only example of opalised pearls known in the world, we believe, which suggests that these were fossilised quickly and secluded away so they couldn’t oxidise.

“They may even reveal something about the origin of pearls, which is still a mystery.”

Museum director Brian Oldman said the Museum was thrilled to have the opalised pearls on loan for the Opals exhibition.

“This precious discovery is a world first, and the pearls make a very special addition to the Opals exhibition in its last week,” he said.

The opalised pearls are now on display in the Opals exhibition which ends on 14 February.


For more information contact: Thea Williams, Communications Officer. Mob: 0466 389 019


About the South Australian Museum

The Museum cares for a wealth of treasures with national and international significance – it is one of Australia’s most admired and trusted scientific and cultural institutions. The Museum’s world class collections have been amassed over more than 150 years and encompass everything from fossils of the first known life on Earth to pieces of Martian meteorites. The Museum’s collections are still growing and used each day in scientific and cultural research.