What exactly is a Petoskey
stone, and why is it called what it is? Actually, in this case, legend,
geology, and history are intertwined to give the definition of what the
Petoskey stone actually is. The study of the geology of the Petoskey stone also
gives one quite an idea of how life was in Michigan during the Devonian
Why is it
Called the Petoskey Stone?
The name Petoskey Stone likely came about because it
was found and sold as a souvenir from the Petoskey area. The name Petoskey
appears to have originated late in the 18th century. Its roots stem from an
Ottawa Indian legend.
According to legend, a descendant of French
nobility named Antoine Carre visited what is now the Petoskey area and became a
fur trader with the John Jacob Astor Fur Company. In time, he met and married
an Ottawa (or Odawa) Indian princess. Carre became known to the Indians as
Neaatooshing. He was eventually adopted by the tribe and made
In the spring of 1787, after having spent the winter near what
is now Chicago, Chief Neaatooshing and his royal family started home. On
the way, the party camped on the banks of the Kalamazoo River. During the
night, a son was born to the Chief. As the sun rose, its rays fell on the face
of the new baby. Seeing the sunshine on his son's face, the Chief proclaimed,
"His name shall be Petosegay. He shall become an important person. " The
translation of the name is "rising sun," "rays of dawn," or "sunbeams of
In the summer of 1873, just a few years before the death of
Petosegay, a city came into being on his land along the bay at Bear
Creek. The site was a field overgrown with June grass. Only a few nondescript
buildings existed. The population was no more than 50 or 60. The city was named
Petoskey, an English adaptation of Petosegay. Thus they honored someone
who gave his land, name, and the heritage of "sunbeams of promise".
Today, Petoskey is a growing city with all of the comforts
of modern life and an appreciation of the past. Here is where Petoskey Stones
are most commonly found. For those who look, Petoskey Stones are along the
beaches, inland in gravel deposits, and sold in gift shops.
How Was The Petoskey Stone
So, what is a Petoskey stone? It is a fossil
colonial coral that lived in the warm Michigan seas during the Devonian time
around 350 million years ago. The name
Hexagonaria (meaning six sides) percarinata was designated by Dr.
Edwin Stumm in 1969 because of his extensive knowledge of fossils. This type of
fossil is found only in the rock strata called the Gravel Point Formation. This
formation is part of the Traverse Group of the Devonian Age.
the Devonian time, Michigan was quite different. Geographically, what is
now Michigan was near the equator. A warm shallow sea covered the State. This
warm, sunny sea was an ideal habitat for marine life. A Devonian reef had
sheltered clams, cephalopods, corals, crinoids, trilobites, fish, and many
other life forms.
The soft living tissue of the coral was
called a polyp. At the center of this was the area where food was taken in, or
the mouth. This dark spot, or eye, has been filled with mud of silt that
petrified after falling into the openings. Surrounding the openings were
tentacles that were used for gathering food and drawing it into the mouth. The
living coral that turned into the Petoskey stone thrived on plankton that lived
in the warm sea.
Calcite, silica and other minerals have
replaced the first elements of each cell. Each separate chamber, then, on
each Petoskey stone, was a member of a thriving colony of living corals. For
that reason the Petoskey stone is called a colony coral.
below illustrates the six sided formation left from the living coral
colonies found on the
Petoskey stone. These stones are
polished and therefore display the fossilization even better.However, the wind
and waves and sand cause a polishing effect, and for this reason stones found
on the shores of the Bay have a more polished look naturally.
However, when Petoskey stones are found inland, they
are unpolished and therefore less defined.
Where Can You Find the Petoskey
The Petoskey stone can be found anywhere in the state from
the Traverse City area across the state to Alpena. They can be found in gravel
pits, and on road beds. However, the biggest influx of stones are found on and
around Little Traverse Bay, in the town that gave the stone its name,
Pleistocene glaciers (about two million years ago)
plucked Petoskey stones from the bedrock and spread them over Michigan and
surrounding areas. This is why Petoskey stones can be found in gravel pits and
along beaches far from the Petoskey area.
The best time to find the
Petoskey stones is early spring after the ice on Grand Traverse Bay has
melted along the shore. Each year as the ice is broken up and the winds push
the ice in different directions, it pushes a new crop of Petoskey stones
towards the shores. The best time to find the stone in the summer is after a
wind storm or a misty rain, when the wetness will make the fossil pattern of
the stone more visible. However, finding a stone might require some time and
patience, especially considering the influx of other tourists seeking out the
stones as well!
How to Polish
Petoskey Stones By Hand
And now for the real fun! Petoskey stones are made up
of calcite, and therefore are a good candidate for hand polishing. Calcite is
soft enough so that it can be easily worked, but dense enough to take a nice
WHAT YOU NEED TO POLISH THE STONES:
Sandpaper (220, 400, or 600 grit)
towel or newspaper
A piece of corduroy or velvet
Once you have found the stone you want to polish, sand it down
with the 220 the sandpaper mentioned above. After rubbing, rinse the stone down
and dry it off. Examine the stone for scratch marks, and if there are any, keep
on sanding! All scratch marks should be gone! Next, sand again with 400
grit sandpaper. This should remove any coarse spots. Once again, rinse, dry and
check. Now sand the paper with the 600 grit to make sure that the stone
is smooth and scratch free. When you think it looks perfect, continue sanding
for another 10 minutes, just to make sure. At this point, it is time to
polish. Sprinkle the damp corduroy or velvet with polishing powder. A short,
rotating rubbing will polish the stone. However, if scratches appear, start
from the beginning with the 220 grit paper to remove them! When
youre finished with the polishing, simply rinse the stone off in clean
water, and dry. Now you have your own, hand polished Petoskey stone!
Lazy? Just spray 'em with shellac. Works almost as well.