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When I was a kid we used to drag magnets around in the dirt and collect "iron filings". Are they pure iron, or something else?

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    $\begingroup$ How in the world would anyone be able to know? There are many different sorts of dirt out there, after all. $\endgroup$ – Ivan Neretin Aug 22 '20 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because we just don't know. $\endgroup$ – Todd Minehardt Aug 22 '20 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ Metallic iron deposits are exceptionally rare in the natural environment. The filings were almost certainly not iron, unless they were scraps or powders from human-based industrial operations. $\endgroup$ – Curt F. Aug 23 '20 at 0:56
  • $\begingroup$ The earth surface is littered* with rust particles, mostly from human sources. $\ce{Fe2O3}$ is magnetic. $\endgroup$ – Karl Aug 23 '20 at 6:46
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More likely they were iron oxides. In moist soil ,iron/steel filings would not last more than a few weeks before turning to oxides. Now the "oxides" are not simply Fe O, Fe 2 O 3, Fe 3 O 4 , they are also hydrates, hydroxides ,etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ Then again, not all oxides and hydroxides are magnetic. $\endgroup$ – Ivan Neretin Aug 22 '20 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, i type slow and did not put in that qualification. $\endgroup$ – blacksmith37 Aug 23 '20 at 0:20

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