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Looking for sparkles in Arkansas' public diamond mine.

Wet sifting is the best method for finding diamonds.

By Christina Horsten

The air above the field is shimmering in the summer heat. Locusts are buzzing in the trees. Gina Meyers doesn't seem to notice while, beads of sweat forming on her forehead, she scrapes together a small pile of stones on a metal table using her credit card.

"I don't really know what I am doing here," says the woman from Tulsa, Oklahoma who made this stopover with her son while on their way to Texas. "This all just looks like pebbles."

This unspectacular-looking dirt field is located near Murfreesboro in southwestern Arkansas, and visitors will come to it in hopes of striking it rich -- with diamonds.

"Welcome to the eighth-largest diamond reserve in the world" says a sign at the entrance to the Crater of Diamonds State Park.

It says that more than 30,000 diamonds had been found by visitors since 1972. Prior to being turned into a park, there had been commercial production.

Roughly four square kilometres in size, the field sitting atop an erstwhile volcanic crater is said to be the only diamond mine in the world where visitors are allowed to dig for diamonds -- and take with them whatever they find. For the chance, they pay an 8-dollar entry fee.

And, finding diamonds is no rarity. Last year, a total of 465 white, brown and yellow ones were found.

So far this year the number is over 300. Admittedly, most of the gems are tiny. But, the largest diamond ever found in the United States had been found here.

That was in 1924, when a diamond of 40.23 carats that they dubbed "Uncle Sam" was discovered.

In 1975, a Texas man found a 16.37-carat diamond, the "Amarillo Starlight." That was the largest find in since the park was opened to visitors.

"Depending on the weather and on how hard you want to work during your vacation, there are different options to find diamonds," says park ranger Waymon Cox in welcoming visitors.

"Fifteen per cent of our diamonds and some of the biggest are discovered through surface scanning. The diamonds have a metallic shine, they are round and heavy for their size. Look for something that sparkles at you from every angle."

A further search method is that of "dry sifting," using a mesh screen to sift through dry soil. About 15 per cent of the diamonds were found this way. Then there is the use of water for the wet-sifting technique.

"The most successful method is wet sifting," Cox says, demonstrating it himself. "You need at least two hours, a bucket, two sieves and a shovel, but your chances are the best."

For this, you first use a shovel to dig up some soil which you then wash in a basin while using a large-meshed sieve to separate the large stones and pebbles from the rest.

Then, using the small-meshed screen and water basin, you sift through the finer gravel in a back-and-forth motion.

What is left is emptied onto a table for you to examine in closer detail. For this final step, Cox offers this advice: "Don't use your fingers, use a file or a credit card, otherwise you are going to lose your diamond."

Visitors who, when evening falls, have not yet had enough time for sifting, are permitted to take 20 litres of gravel with them to sift when they get back home. Park ranger Cox reports that he himself has discovered three diamonds -- "two during demonstrations."

Now, Linda Vonstatt is sitting out in the field and sifting away in the searing heat. "I am here for the first time and have not found a diamond yet. But I have found many beautiful stones, like this one here. At home I will make fairies out of them."

Behind her, an elderly lady is slowly making her way across the field. "I love stones and I have a huge collection. This is my fourth time, but I have never found any diamonds, just quartz," the lady reports.

Meanwhile, Gina Meyers is using her credit card to carefully pick through a small pile of fine gravel.

Still no sign of a diamond. "I am starting to get the feeling that the diamond my husband gave me as a wedding gift, which I put into the hotel safe this morning, will be the only one I will ever have," she says, her eyes still hopefully scanning the gravel. --DPA

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Aug 7, 2016
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