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Afghanistan: Panjshir Valley Emeralds & Jegdalek Ruby

Gemstones of Afghanistan

Article Copyright © 2012 AllAboutGemstones.com

Afghanistan, formerly known as Nuristan, or the "Land of Light," has stood at the crossroads of ancient Indian, Persian, European, and Asian civilizations for thousands of years. The remote and inhospitable land of the Pashtun people lies along the silk and gem caravan trade routes, making it the gateway for conquests from Alexander the Great and the Moguls of India, to the Soviet Union and Taliban of recent history.

Afghanistan's rugged Hindu Kush mountain range, and the region's fierce Chitral, or Nuristani Kafir indigenous inhabitants have made this foreboding land both a natural fortress, and a treasure-trove of under-exploited mineral wealth. A wide range of precious gemstones are found in Afghanistan, such as aquamarine, emerald, garnet, kunzite, lapis lazuli, ruby, sapphire, tourmaline, turquoise, and zircon.

Map of Afghanistan

   Panjsher Valley

Panjsher Valley (Photo: Wiki Public Domain)

Due to its proximity to major east-west trading routes, Afghanistan was the beneficiary of artistic influences from around the ancient world. No where was this more evident than at the excavated tombs of Ai Khanum (aka Ai Khanoum, Alexandria on Oxus), Bactria, Begram, and Tillya Tepe (aka Tillia Tappeh or "hill of gold"), where ornamental jewelry was festooned with exotic materials from distant lands (amber, carnelian, ivory, pearls, and mother-of-pearl), and decorated with motifs from China, Greece, Egypt, Persia, Siberia, and Rome.

Lapis Mining in Afghanistan

Gemstone mining in Afghanistan dates back some 6,500 years, to the gem mines of Badakhshan (Badakshan, Badahsan) Province and Panjshir (Bactria) valley. One of the first gems to be extracted from this region was lapis lazuli, from the mines at Sar-e-Sang (Sare Sang) located in the Kokcha Valley of north-eastern Afghanistan.

Emerald Mining in Afghanistan

Most of the emerald mines in Afghanistan today are small-scale operations with the oldest being the Buzmal Mine in Bismal-Riwat. Afghan Emerald is mined at an elevation of 3,000 to 4,000 meters, in the Panjsher Valley (Panjshir, Panshir, Panshjer) which extends through the Kapisa, Parvan, and Panjshir province, north-east of the capital city of Kabul. Other mining areas in the Panjsher region are at Mukeni-Zara Kel, and Ringe. Emerald is also mined in neighboring Pakistan, at the Gujar Killi emerald deposit, in the Northwest Frontier Province.

Afghanistan's Nuristan Hindu Kush

Nuristan (Photo: Wiki Public Domain)


Kafir Tribesmen c. 1920 (Photo: Wiki Public Domain)

Afghan emerald is found in gabbro rock formations within quartz-ankerite veins. Afghan emeralds tend to be more transparent and somewhat brighter than Columbian emeralds, with a pale green interior and a darker green exterior [2].

Panshjer Valley emeralds have distinct multiphase tabular inclusions that run parallel or perpendicular to the c-axis, as well as subhedral equant inclusions that occur in conjunction with the tabular inclusions.

Ruby & Sapphire Mining in Afghanistan

Sapphire and ruby mining in Afghanistan has taken place at the Jegdalek mines for over seven hundred years. The Jegdalek-Gandamak mines are located in a remote and inaccessible region some 100 kilometers east of Kabul, and south of Jalalabad, in Kabul province. 75% of the production at the Jegdalek mines is in the form of pink to violet-pink sapphire, with rubies accounting for 15%, and the balance being blue sapphire [4].

Ruby form the 'Jegdalek ruby deposit' occurs within host gneiss and/or marble, can be near-colorless to pure red or purplish-red, exhibiting strong fluorescence. Some of the highest quality stones mined at Jegdalek are comparable to those of Mogok in Myanmar.

The Jegdalek mining region is situated along a continental collision-zone that is sandwiched between the Asian and Indian tectonic plates which create three distinct tectonic terrains: the southern (Gondwanic), central (Tethyan), and northern (Eurasian) zones. The Jegdalek deposits occur within metamorphosed limestones that were originally deposited in ancient seas along the edge of the continental plates.[5]. Much of this remote region's gem production is transported through the Khyber Pass to dealers in Peshwar, Pakistan.

Tribal Ethnic Jewelry Books
Gemology Books

Bibliography on Afghanistan Gems and Emeralds

1. GIA - Emeralds of the Panjsher Valley, Afghanistan . www.gems-afghan.com

2. Afghanistan Geological Survey . www.bgs.ac.uk

3. The Massoud Memorial Mining Institute of Afghanistan . www.gems-afghan.com

4. Mining Journal, The Minerals of Afghanistan . www.bgs.ac.uk

5. W. Dan Hausel, Gemstones of the World. Wyoming State Geological Survey

6. Richard W. Hughes, Ruby and Sapphire . RWH Publishing

7. CAIS, Afgna's Treasure-Troves in Paris Exhibition . www.cais-soas.com

8. Musˇe Guimet, Afghanistan Rediscovered Treasures . www.guimet.fr

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Afghanistan's Hidden Treasures
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