Island of Gems
Indeed Sri lanka is the veritable "island of gems" and there are early recordings in the
Mahavamsa (127BC) That king Devanampiyatissa took many gifts of gemstones
to the Emperor Asoka of India.
Other notable travellers who commented on the abundancy of precious stones
including Fa-Hien ( a 5th century Buddhist monk), Marco Polo in the 13th Century ,
Usa Batuta ,the 14th century Arab traveller, and Robert Knox,
the English author who was captured by king of Kandy in 1660.
All commented on the vast array of stones,particularly Rubies, topazes and sapphires
that decorated necklaces,bracelets and anklets on both humans and animals.
In fact sri lanka\'s gem mining industry is nearly 2500 years old.
Nearly nine-tenths of teh island is underlain by rocks of
Precambrian age and around 25% of the total land area is reported to be gem bearing.
Gem bearing gravel and gem deposits are mainly scattered across
the central part of the country in the Sabaragamuwa province covering an area
of about ninety Kilometres radius from Ratnapura the "city of gems".
It is estimated that over 10,000 gem mines or pits exist in the Sabaragamuwa province alone,
mostly near rivers. Nearly 50,000 people are engaged in the gem mining industry.
Exploration for gems has been carried out in traditional methods for generations
by gem miners locating mines mostly by word of mouth without any knowledge of geology.
In one case a illam kuraa 4.5 metres steel rod is used to ascertain
the depth, composition, size, and colour of the illama to be mined.
Then also, Knowing that gem minerals are often associated withh water and rivers,
worn pebbles and quartz are studied to indicate gem bearing gravel.
The appearance and structure of valleys in certain areas also gives clues as to mineral topography;
and finally ancient andold river beds in gem mining areas
often lead to newer potential gem bearing gravel.
Today however more scientific methods are used in large scale studies
of gem mining areas that lead to lucrative gem deposits.
After discovery, or potential discovery,
there are five basic methods used to recover gems in sri lanka:
(1) placer mining (2) open cast mining (3) shaft mining (4)
underground mining (donova) and (5) river workings.
Sri lanka and Brazil share the distinction of having the richest
repositories of gemstones both in quality and variety.
Sri lanka itself claims to have over 70 gem varieties.
Amonge these sapphire and ruby, beryl, chrysoberyl including
alexandrite and cat\'s eye, garnet, quartz, spinel, topaz, tourmaline, moonstone and zircon
are considered to be the most important gems.
Andalusite, agatite, axinite, danbur, diopside, ekanite, enstatite, epidro.?
, fibrolite, fluorspar, iolite(olichroite), kornerupine, monazite, peridote, phenatite,
sapphirine, scafolite, scheelite, sinhalite, sphene and tasffeite are rare.
sapphires, particularly blue sapphires, are among the
most highly valued of all gem stones found in Sri Lanka.
List of the occurrence of gem varieties in Sri lanka
Location Types of Gems Found
Ambilipitiya All varieties Of gems
Avissawella All varieties Of corumbum mineral including geuda, zircon
Badulla (passara) Sapphire and geuda
Balangoda Blue sapphire, yellow sapphire, white sapphire, ruby, geuda, alexandrite, spinel and topaz
Eheliyagoda Blue sapphire, yellow sapphire, ruby and geuda
Elahera Pyrope garnet and zircon
Horana Chrysoberyl cat\'s eye, alexandrite, Zircon and geuda
Kataragama Hessonite and pyrope garnet, sapphire and garnet
Matale (Rattota) Topaz
Monoragala Sapphire and geuda
Nivithigala Geuda and most other gems
Okkampitiya Blue sapphire, yellow sapphire and geuda
Pelmadulla Geuda, star sapphire, star rudy and other gems
Polonnaruwa Garnets, star sapphire, yellow sapphire and ruby
Ratnapura Almost all gems
Wellawaya Colour change garnet