‘Mineral evolution’ has attracted much attention in the last decade as a counterpart of the long-established biological concept, but is there a corresponding ‘mineral extinction’? We present new geochronological data from uranium-bearing secondary minerals and show that they are relatively recent, irrespective of the age of their primary uranium sources. The secondary species that make up much of the diversity of minerals appear to be ephemeral, and many may have vanished from the geological record without trace. Nevertheless, an ‘extinct’ mineral species can recur when physiochemical conditions are appropriate. This reversibility of ‘extinction’ highlights the limitations of the ‘evolution’ analogy. Mineral occurrence may be time-dependent but does not show the unique contingency between precursor and successor species that is characteristic of biological evolution.

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