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Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Elsa Stojak
Amethyst History and Mining
I have always loved Amethyst, and not only because I was born in February, but because I love the color purple. I did not know that Amethyst is the gemstone for the sixth wedding anniversary. Amethyst has been a prized gem for centuries, and it is considered “royal.” The stone is included in royal collections all over the world, from ancient Egypt to the British crown jewels. I hope to someday go to the Smithsonian to see the 400 pound Amethyst that they have on display.
I once read something
interesting about Amethyst in Greek mythology. I read that
Amethyst was a young
virgin who became the object of wrath of the Greek God Dionysus after he became
intoxicated with red wine. When Amethyst cried out to Goddess Diana for help,
she immediately turned the girl into a white, shimmering stone (quartz). When
Dionysus realized what had happened and felt remorse for his actions, his tears
dripped into his goblet of red wine. The goblet overturned, and the red wine
spilled all over the white rock, saturating it until it became the purple quartz
that is now known as Amethyst.
It was said that an amethyst could prevent the bearer from becoming excessively drunk. This information might have handy to me when I was younger. Because of this, ancient Egyptians used the stone as the representative of the zodiac sign of the goat. The goat was considered the enemy of vines and vineyards, and therefore the antidote of wine.
Amethyst was also thought to bring forth the best things out of human kind. Some of these attributes are chastity, sobriety and control over one’s thoughts. It was believed that these attributes were heightened when wearing the stone. I really like that the stone is thought to guard against the anger of passion, and encourages calm, bravery, and contemplation.
Amethyst also has religious connotations. It was one of the twelve stones that adorned the breastplate of the high priest Aaron. “The craftsmen made beautiful sacred garments of blue, purple, and scarlet cloth—clothing for Aaron to wear while ministering in the Holy Place, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Exodus 39) Amethyst stood for piety and celibacy and was therefore worn by members of the Catholic Church clergy and was used to adorn crosses.
During the Renaissance, amethyst stood for
humility and modesty. It is said that Amethyst was a favorite of Catherine the
Great of Russia. She believed that besides being a beautiful stone, it truly
had powers. She wore a special Amethyst ring that she would never take off.
The typical color of an amethyst boasts the
color of royalty, a rich violet-purple. It comes in all shades of purple, lilac
and mauve. It is a variety of quartz, the most highly prized variety. The
natural abundance and infinite variety of quartz have made it the most widely
used of all gem minerals. It is often found in the form of six sided crystals.
It occurs in many igneous and metamorphic rocks, particularly granite and
gneiss. The physical properties of amethyst vary greatly from one location
to another. Experts can tell where an amethyst is from just by looking at
Amethysts are found mostly in Western India, Southern Brazil, Uruguay, Madagascar, the United States, Soviet Union, Australia, South Africa, Southwestern Sri Lanka, South America and Africa.
When I got my first piece of amethyst, I
received a ring from my mom when she adopted me. I did not know that the stone
could be affected by certain chemicals or even by sunlight or exposure to heat.
The color of my ring deteriorated in time because I did not know how to care for
it. I now know that amethyst should not be exposed to chemicals such as
hairspray or cleaning chemicals, and that the stone should be cleaned with a
soft toothbrush or cloth and a solution of mild dish soap and warm water to
gently scrub the stone. You may also clean it with an at-home ultrasonic
It was so interesting for me to find out
during my research that Arizona is home to the only commercially run amethyst
mine in the United States. The mine is called the Arizona Four Peaks Amethyst
mine and it is believed to be the only precious stone mine in the U.S. that
requires a helicopter to transport supplies in and take mined material out. It
is located in the most rugged parts of the Matzanal Mountains which are 46 miles
from Phoenix. It was interesting to read that the miners live at the mine for
1-2 weeks at a time, and have to hike 9 miles roundtrip to get to work. Hand
tools must be used for the slow tedious extraction of the Amethyst since there
is no electricity or running water for that matter. The miner’s only luxury is
a small shed and a generator to light it at night. Solar panels and batteries
are used to light and ventilate the mine. Twice a year the amethyst rough is
removed from the mine by helicopter and supplies are transported in. The rough
Amethyst is taken to Scottsdale where it is cleaned and sorted. The cleaned
amethyst is sent to China where it is cut into finished gemstones. It is
incredible to believe that out of 1000 pounds of amethyst rough produced every
six months, less than 50 pounds is gem quality and is shipped for cutting. It
seems like such a small return for so much work that goes into mining it. From
that 50 pounds shipped for cutting, less than 1000 carats of cut gemstones
return. The Four Peaks mine was discovered by Jim McDaniel in the early 1900’s
while looking for gold and it has been mined off and on for over 100 years.
Four Peaks was also known to the local Native Americans, as a number of amethyst
arrow heads have been found in the area. It is also believed that while
exploring the Southwest the Spaniards learned of the deposit and that the
Spanish crown contains amethyst from the mine. It is curious for me to imagine
if the Spaniards did not learn of the deposit after being attacked by some of
those amethyst arrowheads. The amethyst produced at Four Peaks is known as
Siberian Red amethyst as it has a red flash when viewed under natural light.
The only other place that produces this color of amethyst is in the Ural
Mountains in Russia. I love that there is a mine that produces this beautiful
stone in the state that I live. The color and the difficulty of mining, make
Four Peaks Amethyst a very rare gemstone indeed.
Map of where Four Peaks mine is.
These are examples of Siberian Red Amethyst from Four Peaks mine.
Amethyst geodes: Rocks that seem plain on the
outside but when opened reveal a cavity that is filled in the middle with
beautiful crystals. The general scientific consensus is that amethyst geodes are
created in a two-step process. First, there's the formation of the cavity and
then the formation of the crystals.