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The image most people have of gemstone mining is of very large, mechanized, efficient operations. This is mostly true for the production of loose diamonds. Colored gemstone mining in Africa is very different however. The vast majority of the gemstone production is produced by small scale miners, often using only picks, chisels, hammers and shovels. Many of these small scale miners are "illegal" (unlicensed) and often mine until their food runs out or the mining becomes too difficult. In the following pictures you will get a better idea of how most colored gemstones are mined in Africa, and the incredible journey these gemstones take from the mine to the consumer.

See a video about Marc Sarosi mining loose colored gemstones in the remote African bush. Watch Gem Mining Video.

Kapilinkesa Mine,
Lukusuzi National Park, Zambia

October 1987

From June 1986 to October 1989 I was mining high quality aquamarine gemstones at a locality called "kapilinkesa". In the local language it means "a place I will never forget". As the mine was located in a national park, no mechanized operations were allowed. All mining was done by hand and by utilizing large fires. As in the picture, these large fires were used to break the large quartz pegmatite. The fires were set in the late afternoon and were allowed to burn throughout the night. The heat would crack the rocks and allow for easier breaking by sledgehammers. The mining here is an example of how a typical small scale mine operates although the utilization of fire was very innovative.

Kamakanga Emerald Area,
Ndola Rural, Zambia

August 1984

In the emerald gemstone producing area of Zambia, much of the exploration and mining is done by tunneling underground. The miners and I are looking for a rock formation of mica-chlorite schist in contact with a pegmatite which is were emerald mineralization occurs. Although many miners are injured, and even die working under these conditions, malaria in the bush areas was a much greater health risk and claims many lives.

Kapilinkesa Mine,
Lukusuzi National Park, Zambia

October 1987

Mining in remote areas is very difficult. As we were 120 miles from the nearest town on very bad bush roads, being self sufficient in our operation was essential. In this picture, we are sharpening steel chisels after first softening them in a homemade kiln and then pounding them to a sharp point. This was a constant chore and one that all small scale miners used.