“Oh, what is that shiny stuff in the rocks?” someone will ask during any sort of outing. And invariably, someone in the group will reply, “Oh, that’s just mica.”
I think to myself, “How could anything so pretty be ‘just mica?’”
Mica lives up to its name, which is derived from the Latin micare: to shine or glitter. The ancient Hindus knew all about mica — four thousand years ago they used it for decorative effects. If you were an ancient Hindu looking for a little glitz in your life, mica was the ideal medium. It was the surface of choice for mythological scenes. The Hindus believed mica crystals are preserved flashes of lightning.
On the other hand, geologists believe micas are prominent rock-forming constituents of igneous and metamorphic rocks that belong to a group of complex aluminosilicate minerals having sheet or plate-like structures formed from flat six-sided crystals with cleavage parallel to the direction of the large surfaces, which allows them to be split into optically flat films.
The Cherokees used the material as a medium of exchange. Mica from this region has been found throughout eastern North America. In return the Cherokees received shells, copper, suitable stones for spear points, shells, feathers, and numerous other commodities. The Indians used it for ornamental and ritualistic purposes. Sacred birds, dancing bears, and serpents with horns were crafted from sheet mica. It was the material of choice throughout eastern North America for centuries — and the Cherokees had mineral rights.