Field of Science

The curse of the emeralds

"Listen to me,
because I am the first and the last,
I am the one who receives the honours
and the one who despises them...[]
I am the one who has fallen low
and the one who is beyond greatness."
The mother goddess after the ancient texts of Nag Hammadi (II-III century A.D.)

It is unknown when the first emeralds were discovered in the valley o
f Habach, in the Austrian province of Pinzgau, the only important locality of Europe where these green gemstones can be found.
It is sure that the ancient Romans know the richness in minerals of the Alps, however the oldest confirmed gem from Habach valley is the "Saint Louis" emerald of the French crown, forged in 1226, a 50 carat gemstone which isotopic signature matches the phyllite that characterize the region.
In 1669 the physician and naturalist Nicolas Steno visited a non specified locality in the Alps to study the emeralds found there - maybe it was the Habach valley. In 1797 the mining engineer of Salzburg, Caspar Melchior Balthasar Schroll, notes in his book "Jahrbuch für Berg- und Hüttenkunde", that "emeralds, until now were found only in the valley of Heubach in the Pinzgau".

Fig.1. A single crystal of emerald of the valley of Habach.

Fig.2. ... and many emeralds.

Despite rare and sporadic discoveries of large crystals without inclusions professional mining in Habach valley begun only in 1861. Here, nearly 2.200m a.s.l. tunnels were excavated into the rocks, a sequence of Biotite, Chlorite, Actinolite -and Tremolite bearing schists, rich in beryllium and chromium - essential elements to form under metamorphic conditions the emeralds.

Despite the invested effort, the wealth brought by the mining activities lasted short, in 1913 the English company owning the mine got bankrupt. Various companies and single holders followed in the years, all of them unsuccessful to gain profits from the mines. Then the Great War raged across Europe - there was no more interest in gemstones when people begun to starve.

Fig.3. Description of emeralds of the Habach valley and original specimens from the collection of Georg Gasser (1857-1931), eminent naturalist and author of a book about the minerals found in South Tyrol in the second half of the 19th century.

In 1950 to 1970 various mineral collectors tried their luck, but the hard work, the hostile environment and the isolation demanded a terrible toll - a kind of curse coming with all the things that men so desperately want to possess.
The German Carl Graab, heir of the mine after the second World War, got insane, Sebastian Berger, who some years later leased the mine, one day in 1986 gathered the entire explosive used for mining activity he could find and blasted himself to pieces.

Today the valley of Habach is still an important destination for mineral collectors, some rare emeralds can found in ancient landslide deposits consisting of the emerald bearing lithologies, or in the creeks and rivers coming from the mountains. Even the mine still exist, managed by a private collector, providing rarest specimens of the green fire for the enthusiast, hopefully with curse not included.


KANDUTSCH, G. & WACHTLER, M. (2000): Die Kristallsucher - Ein Gang durch Jahrmillionen. Bd.2 Christian Weise Verlag, München: 160

No comments:

Post a Comment

Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS