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Meditation in a forest of aragonite chandeliers inside the Kap-Kutan cave system

Source : Vladimir Maltsev

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Aragonite - Aragonit - Aragonite - Aragonita

Asia : Turkmenistan : Giant aragonite and gypsum crystals in the Kap-Kutan cave system

Coordinates : about 37,44°'N , 66,26°'W : Kap-kutan cave system, Kugitangau mountains, Tienshan, Turkmenistan, 


The cave system of Kap-Kutan or more precisely Cupp-Coutunn is despite its somewhat remote location one of the few caves mentioned in classic literature. The historian DIODORUS described the caves as early as 49 B.C. in his book 'Biblioteca Historica' ! Knowledge of the caves got lost for many centuries until the early 1950, when a russian geologists visited them and made a proposal for mining its wealth of banded onyx as ornamental stone. Mining started in the late 50s and continued for 20 years, before it was stopped by a growing nature conservation movement.

The geology of the cave system is rather complex. A thick limestone sucession of upper jurassic age was intruded by volcanic rocks and granites in later times. These intrusions brought along hot sulphuric solutions, which formed the caves and the magnificient speleothems.

Against the well known extraordinary beauty of Lechuguilla cave  the Kap - Kutan system compares at least equal - if not even more spectacular - to its american counterpiece.

Kap-Kutan is another example of cave formation by sulphuric acid solutions, resulting in a very long cave system with spectacular and sometimes very large decoration made up of different minerals such as aragonite, calcite, hydromagnesite and gypsum. The aragonite and gypsum form large chandeliers and crystal aggregates which may reach a length of 4 meter and more. Though they are generally not single crystals, individual crystals may easily reach a size of more than one meter.

Apart from the beautiful aragonite and gypsum speleothems in the cave system there appear to occur also large calcite crystals with a dimension  of up to 2 m as freely crystallized crystals on some cave walls.

The Kap Kutan cave system is definitely one of the most remarkable cave system in the world, displaying a vast and rich variety of remarkable speleothem decoration and consequently needs strict protection.

Other notable & famous aragonite occurences :

- The aragonite chandeliers in the Lechuguilla cave, New Mexico; very similiar to Kap-Kutan

- Large, coralliform aggregates - so called "Eisenblüte" (iron flower) is known from various localities, most famous being the occurences at the Erzberg in Styria, Austria.

- Yellow transparent crystals up to 20 cm are known from Horenec near Bilina, Czech Republic. Another famous find from the Czech Republic is the "Karlsbader Sprudelstein", where aragonite forms large white nodules in the thermal springs of Karlovy Vary.

- Both Morocco (Tazouta) and Spain (Minglanilla) has produced aragonite thrilling crystals up to 20 cm and more.

- Tsumeb - one of the most prolific mineral localities known - has also produced large aragonite (variety tarnowitzite) crystals up to 20 cm.


Resting under aragonite crystals in Kap-Kutan cave

Speleologist lost in a giant aragonite forest in Kapkutan

Source of all photos of this page : Vladimir Maltsev

For more images from the Kap-Kutan cave system please click here

Kap-Kutan Essentials :

Mineralogy :

Aragonite, gypsum and calcite

Crystal Size :

several m longe speleothems of aragonite and gypsum, often in chandelier or tree like shapes

Geology & Origin :

Karst cave system in upper jurassic limestone. Cave and speleothem formation by hot sulphuric acid solutions

Current status :    

Protected cave system. Access is restricted to scientific research parties only

Remarks :

Typical and beautiful example of karstification by sulphuric acid solutions

Resources and relevant weblinks :

The most scientific publications of the Kap-Kutan Cave system are in russian language only and not readily available in the west. However, An excellent online - ressource for the Kap-Kutan cave system is the website of Vladimir Maltsev, which displays great images and give detailed information about the geology and the mineralogy of the Kap-Kutan system and about the much needed protection of this area.

Kap-Kutan website by V. Maltsev



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