Emeralds: Colombia’s Buried Treasure


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A miner holds an emerald in the mine office in the village of Coscuez, Colombia. Photo by Eric Welch/GIA

No one can be more familiar with or cherish the magnificent emerald more than the miner himself. At the end of a long day of labor, the miner illuminates and holds firmly the prize of the day.

Miners in Colombia have unearthed the world’s most sought after and valuable of the green gemstones. The characteristic rich greens unique to Colombian emerald are historically appreciated more than any other locality on Earth.

To chart a “treasure map” of Colombia’s finest gemstones, start in the capital of Bogota. From there, draw a line due north for approximately 200 km (124 miles), into the Cordillera mountains of the Andes. Then, strike an arc 90° due east.

Buried within this quadrant, you will find some of the finest emeralds in the world, as verdant as the rainforest, mountains and valleys where they have been buried for millennia − and sought after for centuries. The renowned colored gemstone localities of Muzo, Coscuez and La Pita lie to the north, and Chivor to the east.

Lake Guatavita, 120 km (75 miles) west of Chivor, is steeped in legend and lore, garnished with flecks of truth. The raft of El Dorado (The Golden Man) from the Muisca period depicts a ceremony on the sacred lake. It is said that the legendary El Dorado would be covered in gold dust daily and bathed in the waters of Lake Guatavita.

Spanish and English Conquistadors in the 16th and 17th centuries avidly sought the ceremonial gold dust and precious jewels thrown into the lake.

The pre-Columbian emerald and gold jewelry seen in the gallery above could very well be examples of the types of emerald jewelry used in these rituals and spurred European Conquistadors in their search for the gold and jewels of El Dorado.

La Pita, another well-known emerald mining locality, is home to Itoco, a mythical mountain peak named for the son of queen Fura and her husband Tena. Legend says that tears shed in the tragic love story of Fura and Tena turned into beautiful green stones that lay buried underground.

Emeralds are not the only treasure buried in the verdant land of Colombia. Rubies, sapphires and diamonds are also found there, though more rarely. Feast your eyes on the rainbow of colors of gemstone treasures from deep within the land of Colombia—red rubies, blue sapphires and yellow diamond.

Sharon Bohannon, a media editor who researches, catalogs and documents photos, is a GIA GG and GIA AJP. She works in the Richard T. Liddicoat Library and Information Center.