Lecture September 4, 2019
From GEMS & GEMOLOGY
If wars and tribal conflicts were not tearing the country apart, Afghanistan could produce as much as $300-$400 million in colored gemstones yearly, according to Gems & Gemology author Gary Bowersox, of GeoVision Inc., Honolulu, who has been working with Afghan miners and dealers for 30 years.
Bowersox says the country could be a major source for numerous gemstones, including emerald, aquamarine, tourmaline, morganite, kunzite, pink sapphire, ruby and, of course, lapis-lazuli. As Bowersox indicated in the Winter 1985 issue of G&G ("A Status Report on Gemstones from Afghanistan," pp. 192-204), most of the country's gem deposits are located in the eastern region within the Hindu Kush Mountains, relatively close to the border with Pakistan. The challenges are formidable. Many of the deposits are in remote, mountainous areas, and some are accessible for only a few months of the year. In addition, he said, miners have already exploited the surface deposits. Now they must go deeper to find the gems, which will require more sophisticated equipment than the primitive digging and blasting that miners have used there in the past. In the Spring 1991 issue of G&G (pp. 26-39), Bowersox et al. reported on emeralds from the Panjshir Valley, which was also the home area of the recently assassinated Northern Alliance leader General Ahmed Shah Masood. At the time of that article, Masood "governed more than 5,000 villagers mining emeralds" in that valley. Bowersox maintains that this area still has strong production potential, and that the best gems are "comparable to the finest emeralds of the Muzo mine in Colombia." The mines, wrote Bowersox et al., are a collection of team-owned pits and tunnels located about 150 miles (240 km) west of the country's border with Pakistan, in mountainous terrain at 7,000-14,300 feet (2,135-4,360 m) elevation.
Despite the primitive mining methods, as much as $10 million worth of emeralds were produced annually in the pre-Taliban years. Bowersox believes there is potential for much more. Pegmatite gems are mined in the Nuristan region, which is east of the main emerald deposits and also nearly inaccessible. In his 1985 G&G article, Bowersox wrote that since the early 1970s "literally hundreds of thousands of carats of gem-quality tourmaline and fine kunzite" have been extracted from the area. Morganite and aquamarine have also been mined in the same region. According to Bowersox, the aquamarine deposits have yielded some large crystals of fine material in recent years, with great potential for more. The ruby and sapphire deposits are the most accessible, located near the road between the capital, Kabul, and the city of Jalalabad to the east. Because this has been one of the country's most embattled areas, production has been sparse, although Bowersox believes it has the potential to be a major deposit. The rubies range from a light purple-red to a deep "pigeon blood" red (See figure), reminiscent of Myanmar's famous Mogok rubies. For more on this deposit, see G. W. Bowersox et al., "Ruby and Sapphire from Jegdalek, Afghanistan," Summer 2000 G&G, pp. 110-126.
Lapis-lazuli, for which Afghanistan is noted, has been mined in the country for centuries. Located in Badakhshan Province, north of the country's other gemstone deposits, the locality was mentioned by Marco Polo as "the mountain where the finest azure in the world is found." As described in a Winter 1981 G&G article by J. Wyart et al. (pp. 184-190), the main deposit can be reached only between June and November because of the harsh climate and rugged terrain. Before the Russian occupation and civil wars, the Afghanistan government sorted and marketed all legal lapis exports.
Bowersox advocates keeping all gem mining on a local scale, because large-scale mining and government marketing schemes rarely work for colored gems. He's optimistic that, if peace and stability return to the country (which has known neither for some 20 years), "gems from Afghanistan will be flowing onto the market for many years to come."
For more on Afghan gems, see the articles cited above and the Gems & Gemology Twenty Year Index (http://www.gia.edu/gandg/indic es.cfm). To order back issues or to subscribe, e-mail email@example.com, or call toll-free 800-421-7250 ext. 7142. Outside the U.S. and Canada, call 760-603-4000, ext. 7142. Or, visit the G&G Web site at http://www.gia.edu/gandg, where new subscribers can now take advantage of a special limited time Internet-only promotion.
Figure Caption: These faceted rubies and pink sapphires from Jegdalek weigh 0.68-1.25 carats. Photo by Jeff Scovil.
Aired November 17, 2001 - 09:07 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: As the United States presses on to search for Osama bin Laden, the military is focusing on Afghanistan's extensive network of caves and tunnels. Few Americans have ever been underground in Afghanistan, but this morning, we have a man who knows the terrain very well and has been sharing his information with the Defense Department.
Gemologist Gary Bowersox joins us live from Washington. Hi, Gary.
GARY BOWERSOX, THE GEM HUNTER: Good morning, salaam aleichem.
PHILLIPS: Salaam aleichem to you.
Listen, first of all, I'm fascinated about your job, and I want to know what led you to Afghanistan in the first place, and as a gemologist, why there?
BOWERSOX: Well, shortly, I used to say, I was going to become a CPA, and I decided it was boring. So Afghanistan was much more exciting.
PHILLIPS: I can't argue with that. OK, so tell me what led you to Afghanistan, and when was your first trip?
BOWERSOX: Well, it was the gemstones. I'd entered the gem business, and in 1972, I had an invitation through our government to go, because they wanted to assist the new government under Daoud with exports in foreign currency. And the only thing they knew they had to sell was lapis. And I had gone into the gem business.
PHILLIPS: Well, let's talk about these tunnels and caves. And what did you find? And describe them to us, describe the inside to someone who may have never, you know, have any idea what it's like inside one of those.
BOWERSOX: Well, in one of the areas that they're searching at this point in time, would be between Kandahar and Jagdilik (ph), or that road that runs between Kabul and Pakistan, through the Khyber Pass. This is layered on top with limestone, and underneath is a very hard marble.
I don't know the situation, truly, in the area of Khas (ph), which was a base that bin Laden was hired to build in the early '80s, but I'm certain that he probably has a tunnel somewhere near the center of the earth at this point in time. If I was him, I would.
PHILLIPS: Well, he's an engineer, right? So it's pretty hard...
PHILLIPS: ... to even understand what he's possible of creating, or where he could be hiding.
BOWERSOX: And he's had several years to accomplish this mission also.
PHILLIPS: So what did you discover when you went into these caves and tunnels? What fascinated you?
BOWERSOX: Well, of course, we were looking for gemstones, so we had a little different purpose than trying to live down there. Air is one problem, there is a lack of generators in most of these caves and tunnels, so they aren't tremendously deep. But other ones, and I'm sure he has prepared generators for ventilation, et cetera, and living conditions underneath.
PHILLIPS: Now, when you've seen -- you -- did you actually see areas where people lived? I mean, did you see beds and pictures hanging up? And was it kind of a homey feel for some folks?
BOWERSOX: I haven't been in tunnels such as that. But on top of some of them where mujahideen had headquarters when they were fighting the Russians, we slept on top of some of the headquarters at different times. And they were to the point that they could live underneath the ground, yes.
PHILLIPS: How long did it take you to get into these places, and is it -- you know, do they just go on forever and ever and ever? And how did you keep track of where you were going and not get lost?
BOWERSOX: Well, I usually had some Afghan friends that I was with...
PHILLIPS: Good friends.
BOWERSOX: ... some of them are quite distance, very few roads, and of course the other problem in this whole area is land mines left over from the Soviet invasion.
PHILLIPS: Wow. Now, did you meet with any political leaders while you were there?
BOWERSOX: Yes, definitely. You can't get in and out without meeting with political leaders. And one of the things that I can say now that I don't expect it to be that terribly long before they actually locate a refined area where he is, because the local people are starting to feel free to turn on him. And as you've seen on the news recently, the Pashtun people are now working with the Northern Alliance and others, and pinning down the area where there's a possibility of bin Laden staying. PHILLIPS: Now, what was it that you told the Defense Department? Did they contact you, or did you contact them? And what type of information did you share with them?
BOWERSOX: Well, some of it's not to be talked about, but most of it now is over. This was right after the September situation. Of course, they wanted to see my maps and pictures and what I had available as far as knowledge of the different areas.
PHILLIPS: So did you have information that was actually stronger than what the U.S. military had?
BOWERSOX: Well, I had some fairly detailed maps, topographical maps, of some of these areas, because of our geological research.
PHILLIPS: Do you think Osama bin Laden will be captured?
BOWERSOX: Oh, shortly, I believe. I don't know if they'll capture him or he'll end up being killed. I can't tell you there. But I think they'll be able to find where he is relatively soon.
PHILLIPS: Gary, before we let you go, are you going back?
BOWERSOX: Yes, right now we're working on a symposium to develop their gem mines. We want to create employment for the Afghan people, and I think we should be able to do that, because they have so many natural resources, including the gems, which they could immediately stop fighting and start fighting the mountains and create jobs and employment and foreign currency and taxes for their government -- new government.
PHILLIPS: That's a great effort, Gary. Well, can you bring me back a gem? Do you mind?
BOWERSOX: Right now. Send me a check.
PHILLIPS: You -- OK, I'll think about that. Gary Bowersox, the gem hunter, as he's most well known. Thank you so much, Gary.
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Gary Bowersox has been called "a modern-day Indiana Jones," but his adventures in Afghan cave-mining have posed real-life dangers.
Bowersox, president of a private gem wholesale company, has spent much of his life venturing deep into the caves of Afghanistan, risking his life in dangerous terrain in search of treasure.
The rubies, emeralds, tourmalines and aquamarines he discovered in the country's rugged terrain can fetch tens of thousands of dollars each on the U.S. wholesale market. Bowersox has also transformed them into dazzling jewelry, often worth more than $100,000 a piece.
Funding the Fight
While working as a jeweler in the late 1980s, Bowersox was searching for a new source of gems. He heard that some had been found in Afghanistan during the country's battles with the Soviets. Bowersox decided to contact Ahmed Shah Massood, who at the time was a resistance leader, repelling Soviet attacks on Afghanistan.
Massood had been looking for ways to fund the war against the Soviets when Bowersox traveled to Afghanistan in 1988. Bowersox suggested he teach villagers to mine their own caves for precious stones that he could sell in the United States.
During his expeditions, Bowersox traveled for a month at a time by horseback, climbing narrow paths to mountain caves, at altitudes as high as 14,000 feet. Using grenades, dynamite, and even crowbars, he and his team of local miners uncovered more than $2 million in precious stones — emeralds, rubies and sapphires.
Disguised as a Woman
Bowersox sometimes wore an Islamic woman's head-to-toe burqa in order to sneak the gems across the Pakistan border.
When the Soviets withdrew in 1989, the coalition government that Massood was a part of was unable to hold onto power. When the fundamentalist Taliban swept into power in the mid-1990s, Massood was enemy No. 1. As the military commander of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, Massood used the gem profits for his new battle against the Taliban until he was assassinated days before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Though 61-year-old Bowersox hasn't been mining in Afghanistan since the summer, he told Good Morning America that he still sends profits to the Northern Alliance. Bowersox said he will continue to work with the villagers. "We'll go over and train in mining exploration," he said. "We are working on projects for the future and we believe this is a way to promote these people so they create an income, foreign exchange and taxes for their new government."
Because of his knowledge of the region, Bowersox has become a precious commodity himself. The U.S. Department of Defense has been using the gem expert and former U.S. army major as a consultant on the topography of Afghanistan. Bowersox won't reveal details of those conversations, but military officials have questioned him on issues such as the location of minefields that could be fatal to U.S. troops and their allies.
Bowersox said he hopes to get back to mining in Afghanistan by next summer.
Department of Mineral Sciences Lecture Series
Cooper Reading Room, E207A
Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History
2nd Floor East Wing
Tuesday, October 30, 2001
Lecture: 10:15 - 11:00 a.m.
"The Gem Hunter in Afghanistan and the World Crisis"
Gary W. Bowersox
President and Chairman
Mr. Bowersox probably knows the mountainous region of Northern Afghanistan better than any other American. He has spent the past thirty years exploring, mining, buying, and doing research on gems and minerals in Afghanistan and Central Asia. He has written two books, Gemstones of Afghanistan, published by GeoScience Press, and The Gem Hunter in Afghanistan (currently being edited). This past August he completed the documentary, The Gem Hunter in Afghanistan 2001. Mr Bowersox is currently in Washington, DC consulting two government organizations on Afghanistan and the world crises.
For more information, contact Russell Feather
Phone 202-357-2859; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Lecture held on April 30th and auction on May 1st.
Next Auction to be held on November 27, 2016
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The Gem Hunters Corporation was an idea conceived by Gary W. Bowersox during his over thirty years of promoting gem shows on the road. With this new internet store, gem hunters and buyers can explore and purchase inventory on line.