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Roger Weller, geology instructor
Agate from Botswana
by Emily Moxley
Botswana. The mention of the country conjures up images of wildlife safaris and the magnificent expanse of the Serengeti. However, the African nation of Botswana has another legacy; the gemstone agate. This report will delve deeper into Botswana agate and the nation from where it comes from.
Botswana is a republic nation located in the South of Africa. The countries of Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and the Republic of South Africa surround Botswana. Size wise Botswana is roughly the size of Texas, with a uniform landscape of desert and savanna.
Although Botswana is mostly high desert, there is a magnificent delta in the north, the Okavango Delta. A delta is when a river flows into a large body of water. The water stops and drops the dirt and rocks that it had been carrying. In the Okavango Delta, wildlife flourishes.
The capital of Botswana is Gaborone and the citizens of Botswana are called “Batswana”. The majority of the population steams out of the Tswana, a Bantoe speaking ethnic group of the country.
Botswana is one of the more stable African nations and is often used as a model for other nations to follow in regards to the gaining of independence and new government. Even through all its advances a major setback for Botswana continues to be the HIV/AIDS epidemic. However, the government has been first rate in treatment and prevention programs.
A prize that can be found in Botswana is Botswana agate. Agate is a common, but prized gemstone. Agates are composed mainly of silicon dioxide (SiO2). Agates are formed when miniscule crystals of quartz settle forming bands.
The banding in agates is what makes them unique and valuable. Commonly agates form multicolored bands in pale shades of gray, blue, brown, white, pink, green, black, yellow, purple, red, and orange. These gemstones are normally translucent to opaque. The formation of the bands within an agate is an incredibly slow process. The degree of banding depends on the characteristics of the lava flow that aided in forming the agates.
Agates have been common during the history of the world. Bowls made from agate have been found, dating back to the Renaissance and even further back to the Byzantine Empire. Agates are said to have been first found along the banks of the Achates River in Sicily. This river helped give the agate its name. The name “Botswana Agate” refers to where that particular agate is found.
Agates in their rough form are not spectacular to look at. In all honesty, they are ugly. Agates are found in nodules that, like all geodes, need to be opened to find the beauty within. Agates are surprises. You do not know what is within until they are broken open and sliced. Unlike other geodes agates will form, filling the entire cavity of the rock it is forming in. Once they are opened, the agates must be polished to reveal the splendor within the rocky nodule.
Botswana agate is namely mined in Botswana. The height of the agate mining operation in Botswana was in the 1970s. Since then, rough agates cannot leave the country. The only agates that can leave the country are those that have been polished, or in other words, processed.
The most common cut for an agate is a cabochon. This cut highlights the natural beauty of the agate. By having the agate be cut in a cabochon shape, the beautiful characteristic banding of the agate is showcased.
The most popular use for agates is for jewelry and in particular beads. Agates are typically sold by the pound and prices for agate tend to be appropriate and moderate, due to the fact that supply meets demand. Rare band combinations and rare colors tend to make the price go up. The future outlook for Botswana agate looks positive. It is the second most popular form of agate next to Brazilian agate.
The gemstone agate, in addition to being popular for its beauty, is said to hold strong mystical properties. Botswana agate is said to be a stone of change, comfort, intuition, relief, creativity, healing and sensuality. People carry Botswana agate around with them to help them cope and accept change. Legends also claim that agate can change the course of storms, offer protection from fevers and relieve thirst.
Botswana agate is a beautiful stone that comes from an equally beautiful country. Its unique banding and colors attract people to this available, but not in any means common or plain stone. With just one look, you too understand why Botswana agate has been called the “royalty” of the agate family.
Agate banding image courtesy of Roger Weller: http://skywalker.cochise.edu/wellerr/mingem/gemtl/agate/agateL.htm
Botswana agate necklace image courtesy of Emily Moxley