Solomon's Treasure Island

Solomon's Treasure Island

The country of Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is a tropical island about the size of Ireland. One of the unique features of the country is that it sits on an immense treasure. Gem—quality minerals can be found almost anywhere on the island. In fact, Sri Lanka is in the top rank of countries that produce gemstones, particularly rubies and sapphires. The temptation to dig is always present but must be restrained.

No one may mine in Sri Lanka without obtaining a permit from the State Gem Corporation. This governmental agency regulates all aspects of the trade, from mining to cutting and from land auctions to exports. The agency is extremely conservative and is reluctant to issue permits to mine, even in one's own backyard. Without the permit, digging for gems is strictly illegal.

Rags—to—riches stories of incredible discoveries abound, and occasionally they are true.

A few years ago the world's third—largest sapphire was unearthed; it became the priceless 362—carat Star of Lanka.

In 1984, in the district of Ratnapura, a poor farmer somehow managed to secure a permit to mine on his land. In a single season he found more than $200,000 worth of gemstones, which is an enormous sum in a country where the average income is about $200 per year. It comes as no surprise to learn that he has permanently given up farming for a living.

In the same year another major discovery was made. A mineral scout for a well—known mining company was out for a short stroll one day. While passing a waterhole he happened to notice a woman bathing in a stream. She was scrubbing herself vigorously with a large blue scrubbing stone. Thinking the man to be a "peeping Tom," she was quite annoyed until she realized that he merely wanted to buy her scrubbing stone. She sold it to him for 2,000 rupees, about $135. She found out later that the man had sold it for over $16,000; it was a pure blue sapphire!

The bathing lady, aware that her land was well supplied with this type of "scrubbing" stone, dedicated herself to the task of obtaining a mining permit and was successful. Today she ranks among the millionaires of Sri Lanka. Undoubtedly she now bathes in any one of her many private bathtubs.

Perhaps it is fortunate that the government imposes such rigid restrictions on mining. Sri Lanka is so incredibly rich in gemstones that unrestrained mining could result in flooding the world markets. This would reduce the economic value of gems such as rubies and sapphires far below their absolute value as stones of infinite beauty and finite quantity.

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth