Afghanistan is most famous as the source of the world's finest lapis lazuli. Lapis comes from the Badakhshan province of Northern Afghanistan, where it has been mined continuously for over 6,000 years. In addition to lapis lazuli, Afghanistan has important reserves of other gem varieties. Some of these Afghani gems are already on the international market; others are expected to make a major impact in the future.
Afghanistan is believed to have significant deposits of emerald, ruby, kunzite, tourmaline and aquamarine; as well as deposits of spinel, garnet, amethyst, morganite and turquoise. We have already seen good examples of the Afghani kunzite, morganite and turquoise here in Thailand.
The main gemstone mining region in Afghanistan is in the northeast, and is bordered by Tajikistan, China and Pakistan. The region is dominated by the towering Hindu Kush mountain range. These mountains form the western end of the Himalayas, which stretch eastward across Northern Pakistan and India. The terrain of the Hindu Kush is one of most rugged in the world, with mountains reaching up to 6,000 m (19,500 ft) separated by narrow, steep river valleys. The road network is very limited and many areas of this part of Afghanistan are inaccessible except by foot. The climate is also challenging, ranging from extremely cold winters to hot, dry summers.
While the mining of lapis lazuli goes back many centuries, the mining of emerald, ruby, tourmaline and kunzite started only in the early 1970s. Mining and selling is carried out mainly by independent miners, usually local tribesmen. As a result of the unsettled political situation - Afghanistan has been in an almost constant state of war since the monarchy was overthrown in 1973 - the gem mining areas around Kabul and Jalalabad are virtually inaccessible to foreign gem buyers. The rough material is thus smuggled across the border to Pakistan and sold in the Peshawar area.
Emerald, some of very high quality, has been found in the Panjsher Valley, which is located approximately 110 km northeast of Kabul. The deposits were discovered at altitudes of 3,000 to 4,000 meters in steep slopes that are accessible only by foot.
Tourmaline, kunzite and aquamarine deposits are found in Nuristan; a sparsely populated region northeast of Kabul. The tourmaline is found in a wide range of colors, including pink, green, blue and multicolored. The intense blues and green are especially valued. The kunzite crystals are among the best found in the world. The color ranges from purple to pink and other colors of spodumene have also been found, including blue, green and yellow.
- First Published: November-13-2008
- Last Updated: June-26-2017
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