A typical set-up of a miner’s family in Sri Lanka. In the background of the first picture is a garden. The produce is al organic and correlates with the seasonality of the area. “Most of the product will be consumed by the family itself. But it is not just vegetables and fruits. Sri Lanka is famous for its tea and after drinking one, we certainly understand why”, tells Alexander Kreis.
In fact, the diversity of types of tea and their range in tastes is breathtaking. To name a few teas: Sapphire Oolong, Wiry Pekoe, Blue Pekoe, Tulsi, and of course the well known Ceylon tea. It is interesting to note, that the same type of tea will vary in taste depending on the region it is from. Soils differ in their mineral composition which invariably influences the tea plant.
Retrieving earth from the mine as a first step
Given that the soil in the valley is an accumulation of the earth and stones from the surrounding hills, its texture is quite fine, very soft and sparkles. “No heavy machinery is necessary to retrieve the earth from inside a mine. A simple shovel and a rod are enough. The loosened material will then be placed in a basket and viá an electric winch brought to daylight,” explains Stefan Kreis. It is then placed next to the mine, for now. It is collected until a sufficient amount for washing has been accumulated.
The material from the mine and its texture is shown in the second picture. It is this material that hides the valuable treasure. To extract the sapphires from it, it needs to be washed. Given that the gems typically are small, and the water turns grey due to the soil dissolving in it, only small portions of the material are washed at once. “They carry the earth from the mine to the washing area. This is usually a basin in which they collect water and control the inflow and outflow carefully.
“The two only take small portions of the earth into their basket. They then let small amounts of water fill it and with their hands, they help to separate the soil from the stones. Because they don’t see much in the water, they take out the basket regularly, always mindful not accidentally wash-out a gemstone into the basin. The remaining stones are then collected and searched for sapphires. Due to the careful nature of this process, it is very time consuming and the people show a great deal of patience and care”, explains gemologist Alexander Kreis.
[Picture of a Mine in Sri Lanka – Picture by KREIS]
[Material from inside a Mine in which Sapphires are suspected – Picture by KREIS]
[Two Men washing the earth from the Mine in the search for Sapphires – Picture by KREIS]