- Famous Minerals in Nuristan (A)
- Famous Minerals in Nuristan (B)
- Famous Minerals in Nuristan (C)
- Famous Minerals in Nuristan (D)
- Famous Minerals in Nuristan (E)
Once Nuristanis mine the gemstones, they are sold to Pathan (a tribal group) middlemen who resell them in Peshawar, Pakistan, the gem trading center in the region. Nuristanis take about 15% of the estimated value the gems will fetch from traders who sell to foreigners or export them. The Pathan is the region’s dominant tribe, and the middlemen selling to each other are from different subtribes and speak different dialects. This is one of the most complex trading systems for gemstones in the world.
This is normally the most important time of year, as gemstones reach Peshawar after the summer mining season. But many people are fleeing the areas the gems must pass through.
They finance average Afghanis, who have nothing else. It was estimated $5 million in revenue a year from gemstones in the Northern Alliance area, mostly for Pansjhir emerald and Sar-e Sang lapis lazuli. In Nuristan the estimate is $2 million dollars per year for tourmaline, kunzite and aquamarine. This is what the locals would receive and is a substantial amount to run their villages and infrastructure. Remember, there is no central government to assist them.
Mineral Gallery of Nuristan:
Until recently, Afghanistan was principally renowned in the world of the mineralogists and gemologists for the famous deposits of lapis lazuli in the Badakhshan (a province in the northeastern part of the country, separated structurally from Nuristan by the Pandjshir fault) and also, in lesser measure, for the rubies in the Jegdalek marble near Sorobi. More recently, emeralds from Pandjshir valley and the pegmatitic minerals of Nuristan have appeared on the market (the exploitation of these was made possible by Russian Geologists who found the deposit in 1970).
|Figure 1. Alingar Canyon near Nuristan, Afghanistan|
The three deposits that we were allowed to visit (Nilaw, Mawi, and Kurgal) are situated not far from the most important river in Laghman, the Alingar, which rises in the far north of the province and joins the Kaboul [Kabul] River in the south a few kilometers from Mehtar Lam.
|Locality of the map area shown in Figure 3.|
|Figure 3. Location of towns and deposits in the Laghman-Kunar area.|
Even today the deposits of Laghman are difficult to reach due to the considerable distances that must be covered on foot. Neither mules nor horses can be obtained, which considerably limits the number of points accessible to a visitor.
|Figure 4. Geologic map of the Nilaw area.|
|Figure 5. Kunzite spodumene, 20 cm tall, from Mawi, Laghman, Afghanistan (collection of the Sorbonne). Photo by Nelly Bariand.|
The stratiform pegmatite vein can be easily seen even from far away, forming white bands that show clearly in the abundant vegetation of the little narrow valley of Nilaw. In several places the pegmatites have been exploited with the use of dynamite.
|Figure 6. Green spodumene crystal 60 cm tall. This is probably the finest crystal yet recovered. It is twinned and doubly terminated. From Mawi, Laghman, Afghanistan (collection of the Sorbonne). Photo by Nelly Bariand.|
- Oligoclase-microcline with black tourmaline and beryl.
- Albitized microcline with more frequent black tourmaline and beryl.
- Albitized microcline with black tourmaline, beryl and concentrations of lepidolite, multicolored tourmaline, spodumene, and pollucite.
- Albite with segregations of lepidolite and spodumene.
- Lepidolite, spodumene and albite.
|Figure 7. Kunzite crystal, twinned, 15 cm tall, from Mawi, Laghman, Afghanistan (collection of the Sorbonne). Photo by Nelly Bariand.|
East of Nilaw, not far from the Kolum River, is the famous deposit of Mawi where very large crystals of spodumene (green, blue, pink, yellow and colorless), beryl (morganite and aquamarine) and tricolored tourmaline were discovered. The path from Nilaw to Mawi is relatively easy and can be covered in a half-day walk. It is necessary to cross the Koh-e-Sagoli range (altitude about 3,000 m), then descend again through the short valley of Mawi until the dumps that mark the zones of exploitation appear. It is difficult to judge the thickness of the Mawi pegmatites, but it is surely considerable. (According to Rossovskij, et al. , the principal vein is about 40 m thick and runs for 1,200 m.) The following paragenesis can be recognized:
- Aggregates of quartz and muscovite of about 10 cm thickness first formed at the borders of the veins, in contact with the wall rocks, some with blue-green beryl crystals of large size.
- Biotite and microcline with quartz, aquamarine, and black tourmaline formed next. This association is only observable in the eastern part of the deposit.
- A discontinuous zone of giant crystals of quartz and microcline then formed. The beryl crystals are found only in the apophyses of the principal vein.
- Then a “zone” of quartz and spodumene formed, which actually comprises local segregations with a thickness of several meters, also containing crystals of columbite-tantalite. The spodumene crystals of this “zone” are of great size (up to 2 m long)
|Figure 8. Spodumene crystal, twinned and showing re-entrant angle, from Mawi, Laghman, Afghanistan (collection of the Sorbonne). Photo by Nelly Bariand.|
|Figure 9. Elbaite tourmaline crystal 4 cm tall from Mawi, Laghman, Afghanistan (collection of the Sorbonne). Photo by Nelly Bariand.|
The deposit of Korgal is famous for its extraordinary, absolutely transparent green tourmaline, so sought after by the gems hunters. The mine is situated in a little valley on the other side of the Alingar River. From Dahaneh-Pyar, two ways of access are possible. The longer (a one and one-half day hike) consists of going back down the Alingar to the bridge, crossing the river at that point and searching for the path which takes off upstream in the direction of Dahaneh-Pyar. The second way is more dangerous but takes only a half day: at Oloswali, cross the Alingar River over the small bridge at the exit of the village, then go down the river along the slope to Korgal. Unhappily, this path is very often cut by rock cliffs that have to be jumped over, not without some acrobatics.
|Figure 10. Elbaite tourmaline crystal 6 cm tall from Korgal, Laghman, Afghanistan (collection of the Sorbonne). Photo by Nelly Bariand.|
- Microcline-muscovite-black tourmaline granitic pegmatite, with sporadic manganotantalite and pollucite.
- Oligoclase-microcline-black tourmaline-muscovite with segregations of lepidolite and multicolored tourmaline.
- Albitized pegmatite with microcline.
|Figure 11. Elbaite tourmaline crystal 6 cm long from Korgal, Laghman, Afghanistan (collection of the Sorbonne). Photo by Nelly Bariand.|
The minerals that we have observed are very typical of pegmatites rich in Be and Li: quartz, microcline, albite, lithium-tourmalines, pink and blue beryl, spodumene, muscovite, lepidolite, triplite, heterosite, purpurite, manganotantalite, columbite-tantalite, cassiterite, spessartine, violet apatite and pollucite. Under present conditions, it is only the gem minerals (tourmaline, spodumene and beryl) that make these deposits interesting.
|Figure 12. Elbaite tourmaline crystal 6 cm wide from Mawi, Laghman, Afghanistan (collection of the Sorbonne). Photo by Nelly Bariand.|
|Figure 13. Elbaite tourmaline, 21 by 15 cm, from Laghman, Afghanistan (Herb Obodda collection). Photo by Wendell E. Wilson.|
|Figure 14. Top view of crystal shown in Figure 13. Photo by Wendell E. Wilson.|
|Figure 15. Morganite beryl crystal 6 cm across on matrix with tourmaline, quartz and albite, from near Nuristan, Afghanistan (Herb Obodda collection). Photo by Wendell E. Wilson.|
The government of Afghanistan was overthrown in April. 1978, by a leftist revolutionary group, casting some doubt on the future accessibility of Afghan minerals to foreigners. Although the new government is clearly more radical than its predecessor, American State Department officials familiar with the area say it is far from certain that Afghanistan will become a Soviet satellite. The new government party was reportedly not accepted as a communist party by Moscow. Accounts of the April 27 upheaval obtained by U.S. officials indicate the Soviet Union had no part in preparing or executing the coup. The assessment in Washington is that the new government will lean more toward the Soviets than the previous regime; however, Afghanistan has historically had close relations with its Russian neighbor while nevertheless placing a high value on its own independence. Officials of the coup have spoken of a “positive neutrality” in foreign affairs, with relations to other countries determined by the extent of their political and economic support. The officials said that Afghanistan will not accept aid with strings from any nation. Moscow immediately recognized the new government and has offered about $16 million in civil aid. The United States has also recognized the new regime and offered to continue economic aid which has been about $20 million annually in the past. Most of the 60 advisors from the United States in Afghanistan at the time of the coup are expected to remain, and West Germans have been asked to stay on as police advisors (Oberdorfer, 1978). There is, therefore, reason for cautious optimism that exports of mineral specimens and gems might be able to continue.
We wish to thank Allen Bassett for providing the English translation of this article.
FUCHS, G., MATURA, A., and SCHERMAN, O. (1974) Verbericht über geologische und Lagerstättenkundliche Untersuchungen in Nurestan, Afghanistan. Verhanglungen Geologische Bundesaust., (Osterreich), no. 1, 9–23.