The Bakerville alluvial diamond deposits in the Lichtenburg Diamond Fields, South Africa (image courtesy of IGE Resources AB)
We will never know which of our ancestors first interacted with diamonds or what they thought of them. However it seems that some of the earliest mining of diamonds occurred as many as 3,000 years ago, where humans began mining in alluvial deposits in Southern India. What’s an alluvial deposit?
What’s an Alluvial Deposit?
An alluvial deposit is one occurring usually in a stream or river bed. It is a secondary deposit as opposed to a primary deposit which is the hard rock in and around the formative materials of a mineral/gem/metal ore. The primary deposits for diamonds are pretty tough rock. On the other hand alluvial material is generally pretty loose, not overly compacted, and a whole lot more accessible to our ancestors of 3,000 years ago.
Brazil Steals the Diamond Crown
India was the primary source of diamonds for a very long time—about 1,200 years in fact! But, the wheel of time changes everything and by about 1720 A.D. diamonds were discovered in Brazil. Just as the Indian deposits were becoming much depleted the Brazilian deposits came on with a lot of production. Again, the Brazilian deposits were alluvial as well.
There is a city in Brazil named “Diamantina” after the diamond trade in and around the city all those years ago. In fact, diamonds are still found in the area. Years ago a friend of mine developed a mining claim near Diamantina where he found diamonds and had gold as a by-product. Not a bad by-product!
South Africa Now the Biggest Diamond Producer
Brazil went on for a nice while as the diamond king. Something between 125 and 150 years passed before hard rock mining of diamonds began in South Africa in the late 19th century. It wasn’t long before South Africa took the crown away from Brazil as the biggest producer of diamonds. The southern tip of the African continent is still the mining king for diamonds. Botswana, which is a small landlocked country just north of the country of South Africa, is the largest producer of diamonds in the world.