Historical Reading List: Diamonds in Ancient India


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Diamond washing at Golconda, from “A Nutshell of Knowledge Concerning the Mine” by Isaac Taylor, Second Edition, Published by John Harris, London, (1830)

Diamonds have been known and celebrated in India for more than 3000 years.  They were mentioned in ancient Indian mythological and religious texts, by Greek and Roman classical writers and, beginning in the 13th century, in reports of Marco Polo and other early European explorers and traders.  One of the more important of these travelers is the 17th century French gem merchant, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, who made six separate visits between 1630 and 1668, and who reported on some of the most famous large rough diamonds from that country.  Prior to their discovery in Brazil in the early 1700s, India was the main world supplier of this important gemstone.  The diamonds were recovered from alluvial deposits at the surface, or from shallow underground mining operations.  The main diamond occurrences in the country are clustered in three areas:

 

  1. The “Southern group” in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, including the historical Golconda region and the most famous of the three producing areas, with the deposits associated with the Dharwar Craton.  The mines are located in the Mahbubnagar, Bellary, Karnul, Guntur, Kristna and Godavari districts.

  2. The “Eastern group” mainly in the state of Orissa in the Aravalli Craton.  The mines are located in the Raipur and Sambalpur districts.

  3. The “Northern Group” in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra in the Bastar Craton.  The mines are located in the Panna district.

How to Use This Reading List

This reading list was compiled to give you an opportunity to learn more about the history of diamonds in ancient India. A number of the articles were published in the 1800s and early 1900s – when many classical gem deposits of historical importance were discovered – and gemology and mineralogy became sciences. The list is presented in chronological order to emphasize the development of ideas over time. The list is not comprehensive, but a compilation of the some interesting gemological information that has often been forgotten or overlooked.

Many of the articles exist in the public domain and can be found online at digital libraries such as Hathitrust, Internet Archive, or other digital repositories. More recent publications can often be found in libraries, including the Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library. Abstracts of these articles can usually be found on the website of the original journal or magazine, and the article itself is often available for purchase from the publisher.

Regarding the GIA library’s holdings and on-site access, please contact the GIA library in Carlsbad.

A Note about Some Unusual Diamonds, Author unknown, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 9, p. 26, (1674). A brief note on some large diamonds, sold by Monsieur Tavernier to the King of France after his return from his last voyage to the East Indies, that had been examined in London.  Among them were three of very unusual colors – one being “violet” (perhaps the Hope diamond?) and two “pale rose”.

Les Six Voyages de Jean Baptiste Tavernier, Ecuyer, Baron d’Aubonne, en Turquie, en Perse, et aux Indes [The Six Voyages of Jean Baptiste Tavernier, Squire, Baron of Aubonne, to Turkey, Persia and the Indies], J.B. Tavernier, Chez Olivier de Varennes, 1st edition, Paris, (1675).  The record of journeys of the celebrated gem merchant to the Middle East and India undertaken over nearly four decades, including the most complete early description of the Indian diamond mines, some of the large diamonds, and the methods of mining.

A Description of the Diamond Mines, H. Howard (Earl Marshal of England), Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 12, No. 136, pp. 907-917, (1677).  One of the earliest descriptions of the diamond mines “along the coast of Coromandel” (Golconda) based on a visit made to the area.  The author also describes the types of diamonds found at each location.  An abridgement appeared in the Miscellanea Curiosa, Vol. 3, pp. 238-255, (1708); in the Memoirs of the Royal Society, Vol. 2, pp. 83-87, (1739); and in the Philosophical Transactions and Collections, Vol. 2, pp. 467-473, (1749).

Account of Bandelcund [Bundelkhand], A. Dalrymple, Oriental Repertory, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 279-280, (1791).  This is a brief list of the diamond mines in the Panna district.

A Narrative of a Journey to the Diamond Mines at Sumbhulpoor [Sambalpur], in the Province of Orissa, T. Motte, Asiatic Annual Register, Vol. 1, pp. 50-86, (1799). The author describes a journey from Calcutta to the diamond mining area at Sambalpur.

Of the Labor Abstracted by the Diamond Mines, W. Tennant, Indian Recreations, Vol. 2, pp. 230-236, (1804). The author, who was the Chaplain of the British East India Company, gives a description of the diamond mines and the methods used to recover the diamonds.  He states that “a considerable portion of the rural labour of Hindostan, is abstracted from agriculture, its proper object, and employed in the diamond mines.”

Oriental Memoirs – Jewels, J. Forbes, Monthly Magazine, Vol. 36, Supplement No. 250, pp. 607-608, (1814). A brief description is given of several large diamonds in the possession of Indian royalty.

Account of the Diamond Mines of India, B. Heyne, Tracts, Historical and Statistical, of India, Robert Baldwin Printers, London, pp. 92-107, (1814).  Based on a visit to the diamond mines in Hindostan, the author, a surgeon and naturalist employed by the British East India Company, provides a description of their location, geographic and geologic setting, and mining activities.

Description of the Diamond Mine of Panna, F. Hamilton, Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 49-54, (1819). The author, employed to make a geographic and economic survey of Bengal, records a visit he made to the Panna mine in 1813.

An Account of the Diamond Mines at Purtyall, W. Scott, Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction, Vol. 2, No. 47, pp. 266-268, (1823).  An early description is given of one of the diamond mines in the Golconda region.

On the Diamond Mines of Southern India, H.W. Voysey, Asiatic Researches, Vol. 15, pp. 120-128, (1825). A description is provided of the mines in the Golconda region, based on a visit to the area by the author, an Indian geologist.  The same article appeared in the Philosophical Magazine, Vol. 68, No. 343, pp. 370-376, (1826) and in the Edinburgh Journal of Science, Vol. 6, No. 11, pp. 97-104, (1827). A similar article appeared in Revue Britannique, Vol. 19, pp. 113-121, (1828).

Account of the Diamond Workings and Diamonds of Sumbhulpore [Sambalpur], P. Breton, Franklin Journal and American Mechanics’ Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 46-50, (1828).  The author visited the diamond mines around Sambalpur and gives an account of the mining activities.

On the Diamond Mines of Panna in Bundelkhand, J. Franklin, Edinburgh Journal of Science, Vol. 5, No. 9, pp. 150-166, (1831). The author visited the Panna mine, and he described its geological setting and some of the ideas being discussed at the time on diamond formation.  The same article appeared in the Asiatic Researches, Vol. 18, pp. 100-122, (1833).

Golconda, Author unknown, Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction, Vol. 32, No. 913, pp. 197-198, (1838).  A brief description is given of the former kingdom of Golconda.

On the Diamond Mines of India, Author unknown, in H.H. Spry, Modern India, Whittaker & Company, London, Vol. 1, Appendix No. 7, pp. 332-338, (1837). The diamond mine at Panna is described along with the mining activities.

Diamond Works of Sumbhulpore [Sambalpur], Author unknown, Penny Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 425, pp. 447-448, (1838).  Alluvial diamond mining in the area around Sambalpur is discussed.

Note on the Process for Washing Gold at Herra Khoond, J.R. Ouseley, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. 8, No. 96, pp. 1057-1058, (1840). A brief description is given of alluvial diamond mining.

Diamond Mines of Ramulacota in Kurnool [Karnul], T.J. Newbold, Madras Journal of Literature and Science, Vol. 11, No. 26, pp. 47-48, (1840). The settings of the diamond mines are briefly described.

Memoranda on the Geology of Bundelcund [Bundelkhand] and Jubbulpore, J. Adam, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. 11, No. 125, pp. 399-411, (1842). This article contains a brief section on the Panna diamond mine.

Mineral Resources of Southern India, No. 8 – Diamond Tracts, T.J. Newbold, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 7, No. 14, pp. 226-240, (1843).  The author presents a review of locations and geologic settings of the historical diamond mines of the Golconda region.

Trade in Diamonds, Author unknown, Chambers’s Journal, Vol. 32, No. 313, pp. 424-428, (1859). A description is given of the diamond trade in India, and later from Brazil.

Diamond, E. Balfour, Cyclopedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia, Scottish and Foster Presses, Madras, 2nd edition, Vol. 2, pp. 77-93, (1871).  In this entry on diamond, the encyclopedia contains a description of the Indian diamond mines.

On the Mode of Occurrence and Distribution of Diamonds in India, V. Ball, Scientific Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society, Vol. 2, No. 7, pp. 551-589, (1880).  The author presents a general review of the locations and geologic settings of the diamond deposits in the country.

“Jungle Life in India”, V. Ball, T. de la Rue & Company, London, pp. 518-530, (1880).  The methods of alluvial diamond mining around Sumbalpor are discussed in a section of this book.

“Manual of the Geology of India, Pt. 3 – Economic Geology”, V. Ball, Geological Survey of India, Chap. 1, pp. 1-50, (1881).  A detailed description is presented of the historical diamond mines; it includes historical citations of publications on a number of the mine localities.

On the Identification of Certain Diamond Mines in India which were Known to and Worked by the Ancients, especially those which were Visited by Tavernier, V. Ball, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 31-44 and No. 3, pp. 219-223, (1881).  The author analyzes the correlation of the ancient diamond mines with those visited by Tavernier, and with the ones recognized at the time – this identification has historically been a problem for researchers.  A summary of this article appeared in Nature, Vol. 23, No. 595, pp. 490-491, (1881), and Vol. 26, No. 671, p. 468, (1882).

“The Diamonds, Coal and Gold of India”, V. Ball, Trübner and Company, London, Chapter 1, pp. 1-57, (1881).  The locations of the ancient diamond mines are discussed.

The Diamond Mines of Golconda, K.B. Guthrie, Life in Western India, Hurst and Blackett, London, Vol. 2, pp. 285-292, (1881). Some historical information on the diamond mines is discussed.

The Diamond Fields of India, E. Rehatsek, Journal of the Indian National Association, No. 143, pp. 672-677, and No. 144, pp. 726-736, (1882).  This article is a translation by the author of a section on the diamond mines that appeared in Erdkunde von Asien by K. Ritter (1836). 

On the Identification of Certain Localities Mentioned in My [1880] Paper on the Diamonds of India, V. Ball, Scientific Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 139-140, (1883).  The author provides some additional brief comments on several historical diamond mines.

De la Présence du Diamant dans une Pegmatite de l’Indoustan [The Presence of Diamond in a Pegmatite in Hindustan], M.A. Chaper, Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences, Vol. 98, No. 2, pp. 113-115, (1884).  Prior to the finding of diamonds embedded in kimberlite in South Africa in 1869, the identity of the original host rock of diamonds was unclear because they had previously only been found in secondary alluvial deposits.  Even after this discovery, there still remained some uncertainty about how kimberlite pipes formed, and how the diamonds crystallized within them – this was especially true among geologists who did not have an opportunity to personally visit the South African occurrences.  This author, a geologist who was part of a scientific mission to Hindustan, reached the wrong conclusion that diamonds had originated in a pegmatite dike based on incorrect field observations or perhaps for other reasons.

A Geologist’s Contribution to the History of Ancient India, V. Ball, Indian Antiquary, Vol. 13, (August), pp. 228-248, (1884).  The author discusses the history of gem and mineral production in ancient India.  A similar article by the same author appeared in the Scientific Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 69-116, (1885).  The latter article presents the 1883 presidential address to the Royal Geological Society of Ireland, in which the author reviews the history of the diamond occurrences in India, and published accounts by individuals who visited the mining areas (pp. 75-116).

Diamond, E. Balfour, Cyclopaedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia, Vol. 1, pp. 940-945, (1885).  The section of this encyclopedia on diamonds describes the Indian mines and some of the famous diamonds that they produced.

Mineral Resources of the Presidency – Diamonds, Author unknown, Manual of the Administration of the Madras Presidency, Vol. 2, Appendix 6, pp. 29-32, (1885).  The Madras Presidency, an administrative subdivision of British India, included the famous diamond mining areas referred to as Golconda.  This government publication provides a summary of the principal mines.

“The Voyages of John Huyghen van Linschoten to the East Indies”, translated by P.A. Tiele from the original publication of 1598, Vol. 2, Chap. 85, pp. 136-138 and Chap. 88, pp. 145-151, (1885).  The author, a Dutch trader and merchant who traveled extensively in the East Indies, describes the ancient diamond mines and how Indian diamonds were valued in the 16th century.

Diamonds, Author unknown, Cornhill Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 38, pp. 130-157, (1886). This general article on diamonds includes a discussion of the discoveries in India.

Der Diamant in Indien [The Diamond in India], M. Haberlandt, Oesterreichische Monatsschrift für den Orient, Vol. 13, No. 5, pp. 70-74, (1887). A discussion is presented of diamonds in ancient India.

Hyderabad and Golconda, J.F. Hurst, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 76, No. 453, pp. 440-449, (1888).  The author gives general information on the regions of India where many of the famous historical diamond mines are located.

Notes on the Wajra Karur Diamonds, R.B. Foote, Records of the Geological Survey of India, Vol. 22, Pt. 1, pp. 39-49, (1889).  A bluish igneous rock, with a strong superficial resemblance to the diamond host rock found at Kimberley, South Africa, forms a vertical pipe-like body at this locality.  The geologic setting of this pipe is described, which appeared at the time to not contain diamonds (the author suggests they had been washed away due to weathering of the upper portions of the pipe).

“Travels in India of Jean Baptiste Tavernier, Baron of Aubonne”, translated by V. Ball, Two volumes, Macmillan and Company, London, (1889).  Based on his many years of experience in India and his geological background, the author provides a more accurate translation of Tavernier’s famous account of his travels to the diamond mining areas of India.  A review of these two volumes appeared in Nature, Vol. 41, No. 1058, pp. 313-315, (1890), and in Littell’s Living Age, Vol. 70, No. 185, pp. 571-576, (1890).

The Supposed Matrix of the Diamond at Wajra Karur, Madras, P. Lake, Records of the Geological Survey of India, Vol. 23, Pt. 2, pp. 69-72, (1890). A petrographic description of the usual rock found at Wajra Karur that exhibits some resemblance to kimberlite in South Africa.

The Diamond Fields of India, A.M. Smith, Engineering and Mining Journal, Vol. 53, No. 17, p. 454, (1892).  A brief description is given of the diamond fields.

“Ancient India as Described in Classical Literature”, J.W. M’Crindle, Archibald Constable and Company Ltd, Westminster, 226 pp., (1901).  Reports from classical literature on diamonds and other gems in early India are mentioned (pp. 129-135).

Diamonds and Diamond Mines of India, G. Cech, Jewelers’ Circular Weekly, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 20-21, (1903).  General information on the current situation of the diamond mines, along with some thoughts on their future potential, is given in this article.

Mineral Resources of British India, S.C. Rudra, Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, Vol. 34, pp. 804-835, (1904).  This article contains a section on the historical diamond mines.

“Things Indian”, W. Crooke, John Murray, London, pp. 134-138, (1906).  This book contains a short section on the diamond mines.

Geology of the State of Panna, Principally with Reference to the Diamond-bearing Deposits, E. Vredenburg, Records of the Geological Society of India, Vol. 33, No. 4, pp. 261-314, (1906).  The author describes the geologic setting of the Panna diamond mines.

The Diamonds of South India, P.S. Iyengar, Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 117-132, (1912).  The author reviews the history of diamonds in India, and he describes the locations of the diamond mines as well as some of the famous diamonds found.

“The Diamond: A Study in Chinese and Hellenistic Folk-Lore”, B. Laufer, Field Museum of Natural History Publication 184 – Anthropological Series, Vol. 15, No. 1, 75 pp., (1915).  Reports of diamonds from India mentioned in ancient written sources are described.

The Diamond Industry of India, Author unknown, Bulletin of the Imperial Institute, Vol. 20, pp. 504-506, (1922).  A brief review is given of the diamond industry.

The Golconda Diamond Mines, L. Munn, Journal of the Hyderabad Geological Society, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 21-62, (1929).  Article not seen.

Ancient Diamond Mining in Andhra and its Future, N.V.B.S. Dutt, Indian Minerals, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 138-150, (1953).  Article not seen.

The Diamonds of the Krishna Valley, C.V. Raman, Current Science, Vol. 37, No. 19, pp. 541-542, (1968).  Article not seen.

Diamond Occurrences in Ancient India, S.R.N. Murthy, Journal of the Geological Society of India, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 208-210, (1980).  The author discusses the mention of diamond in ancient Sanskrit texts, and suggests some locations that may correspond to the places mentioned in the early publications.

The Diamond Deposits of India, S.M. Mathur, Indiaqua Magazine, No. 33, pp. 21-29, (1982). After discussing the historical importance of the Indian diamond deposits, the author describes the occurrence at Panna.

“Classic Mineral Localities of the World – Asia and Australia”, P.Scalisi, D. Cook, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, pp. 53-64, (1983).  This book contains a section on the historical Indian diamond mines, and it gives a brief description of the famous diamonds from this country.

Diamonds from India to Rome and Beyond, L. Gorelick, A.J. Gwinnett, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 92, No. 4, pp. 547-552, (1988). The technological use of diamonds as tools, for example as splinters for engraving gems or drilling holes in beads, appears to have begun in India at least as early as 250 BC.

Gem-Minerals in Pre-Modern India, A.K. Biswas, Indian Journal of History of Science, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 389-420, (1994). This article presents a review of the use of gem minerals in ancient India, beginning with traveler’s accounts of gem deposits and the gem trade.

“Minerals and Metals in Ancient India”, A.K. Biswas and S. Biswas, D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, (1996).  Two volumes; not seen.

English Private Trade on the Coromandel Coast, 1660-1690: Diamonds and Country Trade, S. Mentz, Indian Economic and Social History Review, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 155-173, (1996).  Article not seen.

Diamond Mining and Trade in South India in the Seventeenth Century, I. Alam, Medieval History Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 291-310, (2000).  Article not seen.

From Livorno to Goa and Back: Merchant Networks and the Coral-Diamond Trade in the Early-Eighteenth Century, F. Trivellato, Portuguese Studies, Vol. 16, pp. 193-217, (2000).  Article not seen.

Gems from the Orient: The Activities of Sir John Chardin (1643-1713) as a Diamond Importer and East India Merchant, E. Samuel, Proceedings of the Huguenot Society, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 351-368, (2000).  Article not seen.

Diamond and Pieces of Eight: How Stuart England Won the Rough-Diamond Trade, E. Samuel, Jewish Historical Studies, Vol. 38, pp. 23-40, (2002).  Article not seen.

Evolution of the Indian Diamond Industry, J. Panjikar, K.T. Ramchandran, Indian Gemmologist, Vol. 13, No. 1/2, pp. 27-38, (2005). The authors review the history of diamonds in India, and they discuss the ancient diamond mines in particular parts of the country.

Early Records of Diamond Mining in India, Fareeduddin, R.H. Sawakar, 10th International Kimberlite Conference, Extended Abstract, pp. 1-4, (2011).  While diamonds had been known for more three thousand years, according to these authors, exploitation of the diamond deposits reached its zenith in the 17th century and then, following their discovery in Brazil, production in India dwindled sharply.

“Diamonds: An Early History of the King of Gems”, J. Ogden, Yale University Press, New Haven, 399 pp., (2018).  This recent book presents information on the early history of diamonds from India.

Dr. James Shigley is a distinguished research fellow at the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, California.