Emerald Mining in Colombia

There has been more activity in emerald mining in Colombia in the last few years than at any other time in the four centuries since the Spanish first discovered the deposits. The past, however, has yielded many fabulous gems, the most famous of which are also described here and placed in historical perspective.

Few gemstones on the world market today provide the aura of adventure and intrigue, wealth and beauty that is so intrinsic to emerald. The first records of emeralds worn as jewelry date from the early days of the Roman Empire, in reference to stones recovered from now long- lost Egyptian mines. They have been treasured as gems ever since.

Although the Egyptian mines may have introduced emeralds to the Western world, historically the finest emeralds have come from deposits in Colombia. The checkered history of these mines began cruelly with the Spanish conquerors’ enslavement of local Indians to work the deposits, leading to the decimation of the native population in just a few years.

As recently as the early 1970s, Muzo, the major mine, was forced to close because of over 900 emerald-related murders in one year. Over the past half century, there have been numerous papers describing the status of the Colombian emerald mines, usually by recent visitors to the mining areas. However, few, if any, of these papers have combined their observations (which were usually on a single mine) with a comprehensive review of the literature to provide a detailed account of the history and geology of the emerald deposits. Furthermore, in the past five years we have seen more activity in the Colombian mines than there has been since the Spanish first exploited them in the 16th century.