Geology Unit Study - Gemstones

Week 3: We went mining for rocks and minerals and visited a historic mill where minerals were polished and turned into gemstones.

Gemstones are rocks or minerals which have been cut and polished. Many gemstones are used for jewelry and the rarer the mineral, the more valuable the gem.

Like miners, historic gem polishers had short life-spans. The toxic dust breathed while polishing usually lead to lung disease. Gem polishers worked on their stomachs using their feet to push the stone into the grinding wheel.

As technology improved, gem polishers began to work in an upright position, but continued to breath toxic dust.

Many minerals drastically change their appearance when polished like the fluorite shown in the above photo.

Digging for Gemstones in Idar-Oberstein
After learning about gemstones and polishing techniques at the Idar-Oberstein, Germany Historic Mill, we spent two hours digging for precious stones. The field was fortified with rocks and minerals from around the world, so a successful dig was guaranteed.

Searching for stones in newly turned over ground

Digging with a pick-ax

Just getting started

Sifting dirt for stones

Cleaning stones in the wash basin

Scrubbing off the mud

Two hours of digging is back breaking difficult work whether the field is fortified or not. We were glad this was a field trip and not a regular job. Often stones under the ground all looked alike. They were not obviously good finds until they were cleaned.

Digging in this fortified field was a bit expensive, but was totally worth it. We gained an appreciation of what easy mining is like and began a diversified rock collection. After returning home we spent several afternoons clean rocks and trying to identify them.

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