Tektites? Rocks Or Glass?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in  IMAGES for August 22, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Today’s column was triggered by someone asking me if I had ever found any tektites during my many years of living in Lee County, Texas.  Well, as I thought about the question, I remembered I used to collect rocks as a kid growing up in Dime Box, but I wasn’t sure what a tektite was, though I suspected it was a rock of some kind.  Before I get to the tektite saga which will follow, let me say a few things about rocks.

            All of us, I’m sure, grew up thinking of rocks as symbols of strength, that’s why “hard as a rock” is such a common expression.  We Christians think of God as a rock, we sing “Rock of Ages” with great fervor, and we remember Jesus saying to Peter, “On this rock I will. build my church.”  What could be harder and stronger than a rock?  Hmmm.  But what is a rock anyway?

            In common parlance, diamonds, which are enormously hard, are referred to as “rocks,” but they are actually “minerals” rather than rocks.  Talc is very soft, and it, too, is considered a mineral rather than a rock.  Understanding what a “rock” is may be more difficult than we think, a challenge that those of us whose careers have been “words” readily take on.  While a mineral is not a rock, rocks are often made up of different kinds of minerals.  Even scientists seem to be confused about what is and what isn’t a rock.

            As far as I can discern, “stones” and “rocks” and “boulders” and “pebbles” are all pretty much the same thing.  “Rock” is a generic term, “stones” are usually found in large amounts, such as granite, and “boulders” are huge pieces of rock.  A major difference, though, is that while “rocks” can be hard or soft, “stones” can only be hard.

            Metamorphic rocks are the hardest of the three kinds of rocks and form the roots of most mountain chains.  Sedimentary rocks are the weakest or softest, and igneous rocks are somewhere in between.

            Sorry for the pedantic talk, but I had to explain all of that to get to the tektites I never found in Dime Box or anywhere else in Lee County, Texas.  In fact, it never occurred to me to look for them as a child since I had never heard of them.     

            To get to the point, “tektites” are not rocks, even though when you find them they may look like rocks.  Actually they are glass, scientists tell us.

            Isn’t that really a technicality since glass is formed from sand or rocks (usually high in silica) by heating them to a very high temperature, followed by a rapid cooling.  OK, so rocks and sand CAN become glass, but glass is NOT a rock. 

            THE MYSTERY:  If tektites, strewn about Lee County, and other places in Texas and elsewhere, are indeed glass, who made the glass and randomly tossed it here and there (in Texas) in Walker, Brazos, Burleson, Lee, Fayette, Lavaca, Gonzales, and DeWitt Counties?

            It wasn’t the Bedias Indians of Texas, even though in Texas, “tektites” are known as “bediasites,” having been named after that tribe.  Apparently, over the years, the greatest number of tektites in Texas were found in the area where the Bedias Indians lived.  If tektites were strewn about by them, how did we acquire such unusual glass?

            THE ANSWER TO THE MYSTERY:  Tektites were formed during meteorite impacts with the earth!  Since glass needs heat for its formation, that meant an incredible amount of heat!  Some commentators even go so far as to say it happened when a giant meteorite or asteroid hit the earth and killed off the dinosaurs.  It is believed to have hit Chicxulub, Yucatan, Mexico, and the results were widespread, including the formation of tektites.

            Next time you’re in Dime Box, go on a little geological search.  Who knows, you might find a tektite!  I never did.


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of the book, It Must Be the Noodles.

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