Diamond Digging

by Susan Purcell | Jun 1, 2024 | 0 comments

“Did you find a diamond?”

He was a little boy that asked me. He had a hole where a front tooth should have been, and dust on his pants from the knees down. Like myself, and many others, he and his family had come to spend the day digging for gems and rocks at the Crater of Diamonds State Park of Murfreesboro, Arkansas.

I held out my hand. Other families at the wash station stopped sorting their own rocks and gathered around us. They wanted to see too. In my palm lay a crystal about the size of a sunflower seed.

“I think it is quartz,” I told them.

It had smooth sides, and the right crystal shape, but it didn’t have the right shine. We adults agreed. Pretty, but not a diamond.

“That’th quarthz?” the little boy asked, his missing tooth not helping him pronounce his S’s.

“Yes, it’s clear quartz.” I nudged it with my finger. The sunlight jumped in and out through its glassy sides. It deserved a spot in my collection. “I think I will keep it,” I said, and pulled my “keepers” jar out of my pocket.

Everyone liked my decision. The little boy and I smiled at each other, and he went to dig up more dust on his pants.

Crystals and gems easily get lost rolling around loose in a pocket, so I always kept a little jar with me whenever I went rock hounding. My pretty piece of quartz landed with a clinkity-clack in the treasure pile of jasper and lamproite rocks and chrome diopside bits at the bottom. I gave them a shake to watch them dance and glitter. No diamonds though.

I reloaded my box screen with more diggings. The box screen was a simple tool, just a square wooden frame with a metal mesh in the bottom. I dunked the whole thing in the water. The pebbles and crystals and important rocks stayed in while I washed the dirt and junk out.

diamond digging
Diamond digging. Photo © Bonita Cheshier|Dreamstim.com.

I shook it forward and back. Shake, shake. Then side to side. Shake, shake. Every time I shook the box that way, any diamonds, which were heavier by size than the other material, tumbled their way closer and closer to the center. I put my hand in and swirled the rocks all around and broke up any clumps. The cool water curled and twirled through the screen and over the rocks and my fingers. I could feel the sometimes round, sometimes pointed edges of the gravel against my palm as I rolled and rubbed them clean. I shook and bathed and shook my diggings until all the soil was gone and only dripping wet, shining rocks were left.

Quick as a whip, I flipped my screen of clean rocks upside down, and everything inside plopped straight down onto the inspection table.

The rocks and minerals were such beautiful colors. They looked just like a sky full of stars. The calcite and quartz were white and clear and clustered in the middle, the surrounding common gravel black as night. Jasper stones, creamy smooth and fiery orange, orbited through, and everywhere I looked, tiny golden flecks of lamproite and green glints of chrome diopside twinkled. No diamonds, but no two siftings were ever quite alike. It made hunting fun.

It could also be hard work. I had a big field of 37 acres (15 hectares) to search. The gems were usually very small, about the same size as the red head of a matchstick. Without some knowledge, I could spend all day rooting in the dirt like an armadillo. Grubs may make a tasty meal for him, but they weren’t the treasure I was after.

I grabbed my empty bucket, dropped my tough camping shovel inside, and followed a shallow stream bumping its way over the dirt clods and through the field. I gave my shovel a really good ride, swinging it back and forth as high as it could go, while the wind blew over my face and cooled my cheeks.

The stream yanked a sharp right. The water scampered on, but it had deposited rocks and clumps of soggy leaves and anything heavy on its bank. Pea-size stones or smaller—that was good—and the promising gleam of lamproite! Time to dig!

Diamonds hitch a ride on volcanic rock like lamproite when they take the volcano express elevator to the earth’s surface. The diamond stability zone, where God formed diamonds, exists about 90 miles (140 km) underground. Without a volcano underneath bubbling and brewing, and one day blasting the diamonds out, we’d never even see them. Lamproite meant diamonds could be close by.

“Scratch” went the rocks against the steel shovel head. “Squish” went the water, gurgling up in the hole I made. “Schlop” went the scoop into my bucket. After I filled my bucket, I lugged these diggings, just like my earlier batch, to the wash station for sifting and final inspection.

I didn’t dig up a diamond that trip. Hundreds of people visit the Crater of Diamonds State Park every day. Out of those hundreds, only one or two go home with a diamond, and many go home without a quartz, either, but everyone has fun digging. I went home happy with the additions to my “keepers” jar, excited to keep learning and to come back and try again.

Diamond. Photo © Mxwphoto|Dreamstime.com.

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