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What "Naturally Occurring" Means

“Naturally occurring” is part of the definition for both rocks and minerals. To understand either definition, you need to understand what “naturally occurring” means. To do this, you will need:

As many of the items from the following list as you can:

  • several mineral specimens
  • several rock specimens
  • coins, bone, teeth, sea shells, wood, nails, cloth, glass, feather, paper, water, salt, pepper, other objects made of different materials

Place all the objects on a flat surface where you can spread them out. Think of all the different ways that you could sort these objects into groups. You could sort them by color, by texture, by shape, or many other things. For this activity, we will sort them into two groups. In one group we will put the naturally occurring objects, and the other group will have all the man-made objects.

Naturally occurring means that the object was not made by a person. For example, in the lower left corner of the photo, you will see a piece of wood. Was that wood made in a factory? No, it grew as part of a tree. It is naturally occurring.

What about the feather at the top of the photo?

Do birds buy their feathers in stores? No. Again, the feather is naturally occurring. It is not man-made.

What about the dollar bill?

Was it made by a person? Yes, it is man-made. It did not grow on a tree, although the paper was made from wood. It was not dug out of the ground. Dollar bills have to be manufactured, so it would go in the pile with the man-made objects.

What about the wasp nest?

It was made by wasps, not people, so it would fit into the naturally occurring category.

Some of the objects may take some thought.

For example, look at the clothes pin at the center of the photo.

It is mostly made of wood, which is naturally occurring, but that wood has been cut and shaped in a factory. It is held together with a metal spring that is also man-made. So which pile does it go in? If you think of it as a piece of wood, it would go in the natural pile. However, if you think of it as a clothes pin, it would go in the man-made pile. You might run into the same sort of decision with a wooden pencil, or a paint brush made of wood and animal hair. You might even start a third pile for objects that are part natural and part man-made.

If you have trouble deciding about something, ask yourself, “Was this made by a person?” If the answer is no, then it goes into the group for naturally occurring. That is the first step towards deciding if that object fits the definition of a rock or a mineral.