The Beaver's Tale

July 09, 2020

Ellero beaver_sm

July  2020 Viewer's ChoicePhotographer: James Van Gundy 
Summary Author: James Van Gundy 

I recently came across this somewhat whimsical carving of a beaver in an antique shop. It looked odd to me and as I picked it up, I was struck by its weight that seemed unusually heavy for an object its size. As I looked more closely, it appeared that the statue was carved from some sort of metallic sulfide mineral that again was unusual as such materials are usually too brittle to carve.

A label on the underside of the base identified it as a creation of stone carver Peter Ellero of Sudbury, Ontario. With a little research, I learned that Mr. Ellero was an Italian immigrant who worked for a while in International Nickel Corporation’s Creighton Mine at Sudbury. The material used to carve the beaver probably came from that mine. The Sudbury district is home to one of the world’s richest mineral deposits and has produced over $100 billion worth of nickel, copper, gold, platinum, palladium, and silver over its 100+ year history.

The statue is actually carved from nickel ore that consists of a mixture of metallic sulfide minerals including pentlandite - (Fe,Ni)9S8, pyrrhotite - Fe(1-x)S, and chalcopyrite - CuFeS₂. The polished base appears to be an igneous rock called gabbro that contains a large number of inclusions of the same minerals. Pyrrhotite is one of the few minerals that are naturally magnetic, and indeed, the ore deposit was initially discovered by a surveyor who noticed a magnetic distortion in his compass readings.

It’s now understood that the Sudbury ore deposits lie within an impact crater that was originally about 155 miles (250 km) in diameter and resulted from the impact of a 6 to 10 mile (10-15 km) diameter comet approximately 1.8 billion years ago. The Sudbury ores are derived from the impact melts produced by that comet’s interaction with the Earth’s crust and upper mantle. Since it was originally formed, the crater has been much deformed by subsequent tectonic activity.

So, it turns out that this little beaver has a number of tales to tell. One, of an immigrant seeking a better life. Another of a wandering compass needle pointing towards almost unimaginable mineral wealth, and finally, a story of an ancient cataclysmic natural catastrophe. Note that the statue’s base is 9.5 by 4.5 inches (24.1 by 11.4 cm) and it weighs 7.2 pounds (3.27 kg).