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Categories: News Release, From the Gold Prospectors Magazine

 Monday, August 31, 2020

Diamonds in the Rough

Arkansas' Crater of Diamonds Keeps Producing..

by GPAA Admin

Diamonds in the Rough
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As featured in the upcoming 2020 September/October Gold Prospectors Magazine

By Karen Bartomioli


There are plenty of stories of even the most casual treasure hunter finding gold nuggets, but what about diamonds?

If you’re thinking you need a big mining operation, digging deep into the earth with heavy equipment in some far-off place, you’d be right, mostly.

There is precisely one place in the United States where the public can plunk down a nominal day pass fee and find diamonds just by sifting through the dirt. And it’s in the seemingly unlikeliest of places: Arkansas.

Crater of Diamonds is a great addition to that bucket list. It is the centerpiece of its namesake 911-acre state park, located just south of Murfreesboro, a town of about 1,600 in the southwest part of the state.


On a sunny day in late June, Beatrice Watkins made the 75-mile trip from Mena with her daughter and granddaughters. Families on casual outings are found there about as often as more serious prospectors. After all, digging in the dirt for diamonds — where’s the downside?

And where else, for about the cost of a fast food meal can you find terrific odds at bringing home a small fortune?


As the name alludes, the 37.5-acre open mining site, essentially a plowed field, sits atop a crater that is the remains of an ancient volcano. There’s no climbing or anything that even resembles a cone or caldera. This volcano, so old it doesn’t even have a name, weathered away over the last 95 million years or so.

What remains is treasure so close to the surface, it takes only a turning of the soil every month or so to make diamonds accessible to anyone with a box screen or saruca.

Watkins was dry sifting for only 30 minutes when she found a brown rock with a tell-tale metallic luster. Her daughter Googled it and they guessed it might be iron pyrite.

It wasn’t until later, when the family took a break in the Discovery Center there, that the staff identified it as a bonafide brown diamond, weighing in at 2.23 carats. It was the largest found there to date in 2020, and since a 3.29-carat brown was found in October 2019.



Courtesy of Crater of Diamonds State Park 


What are the odds?

“Lady Beatrice,” as Watkins named it, was the 139th registered find of the year, one of four weighing more than a carat. Total weight of all finds was 22 carats.

That sounds like good odds, but consider that the crater is open nearly every day and almost always sells out its 800 daily admissions. Watkins’ find put the park on track at exactly one diamond per day, making the odds for half a year about 1 in 800.

But the bigger picture shows 33,100 diamonds found since the park opened in 1972. That’s nearly two per day!


Need more proof?

Watkins’ record for the year did not stand for long. Dr. Mindy Pomtree, of Benton, Arkansas was also there in June, and uncovered a 6.39-carat white diamond she named Serendipity. It is the 12th largest found since the park opened.

On July 9, David Dempsey was wet-sifting with his kids, ran his hand through gravel and 2.73-carat round, white diamond popped out. Dempsey, from Alabama, had waited 30 years to treasure hunt in the crater.


Courtesy of Crater of Diamonds State Park 


Courtesy of Crater of Diamonds State Park 


The even bigger look is more intriguing.


The first documented find here was in 1906, by a farmer who owned part of the crater.

There were several attempts at commercial mining. Back when the park land was the Prairie Creek pipe mine, a worker with the Arkansas Diamond Corporation found “Uncle Sam,” 40.23 carats of faint yellow, near-flawlessness, and the largest diamond ever found in the U.S.

It was 1924. The mining company was drowning in debt and about to shut down. Uncle Sam, the diamond, was not going to save them, but it was a boost to the flagging mining spirit in the crater, and surface mining continued.

All told, the crater has revealed more than 75,000 diamonds. 

Most common are white, followed by brown and yellow. New York jeweler Schenck & Van Haelen handled more than 14,000 Arkansas diamonds. They described the diamonds as so hard, they could only be cut using powdered Arkansas diamonds.


What makes them unique?

It remains a geological mystery, for the most part.

About 95 million years ago, in the middle of the Cretaceous Period, dinosaurs were evolving after a minor extinction event that ended the Jurassic Period. Modern mammal, bird and insect groups were emerging. The continents were taking on shapes we would recognize. And a volcano, in what now seems a very odd place, erupted.

Its rare magma pipe fascinates the experts still. Even rarer, it spewed deeply sourced lamproite magma, as opposed to kimberlite.

Lamproite pipes form deep within the Earth’s mantle. Diamonds crystalize in cratons — blocks of the Earth’s crust that form the solid core of the continents.

Arkansas is a far cry from typical volcano sites, mainly found at boundaries of tectonic plates between the ocean and continents. But in prehistoric times, it was at the edge of an inland sea that split North America, so it makes geological sense.


Also found in the crater was the 16.37-carat Amarillo Starlight, the 15.33-carat Star of Arkansas and Esperanza, weighing 8.52 carats.

It’s pretty remarkable that all were found by ordinary folks digging in the dirt. They include a 1990 find by Murfreesboro resident Shirley Strawn. The 3.03-carat, rough Strawn-Wagner diamond was certified by the AGS (American Gem Society), achieving a “triple zero,” after it was cut to a 1.09-carat round brilliant. It was proclaimed the most perfect diamond ever to have graced their lab.


A diamond of this size and perfection is estimated to be a one-in-a-billion occurrence. It is on permanent display at Crater of Diamonds State Park.


Karen Bartomioli is a photographer and journalist specializing in freelance investigative reporting. She lives in Connecticut, and on the Web.

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