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January-February 2014

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Connoisseur's Choice: Diamond, Dutoitspan Mine, Kimberley, Northern Cape Province, South Africa

Only in the … valley of Sinbad are diamonds strewn on the ground in such profusion that they are likely to stick in the toes of a barefooted traveler.

Gardner F. Williams in The Diamond Mines of South Africa (1904, p. 115)

The valley referred to by Williams in the quote above is the Valley of Diamonds, the inescapable valley in which the intrepid Sinbad was left to die and where diamonds lay strewn on the ground. Animal carcasses were thrown into the valley by gem merchants; the diamonds stuck to carcasses that provided food for giant eagles. The eagles brought the carcasses out of the valley, and the gem merchants could then collect the diamonds that fell off of them. Sinbad escaped by hiding in a carcass that was carried away by one of the giant eagles. Of course, he also was carrying a bag of diamonds. As a child, this tale was a favorite of mine, especially as I imagined the birds to be pteranodons (it was my dinosaur phase). People have been taken in by scammers with stories just like the Valley of Diamonds. In fact, a group of well-heeled, influential Americans in the midnineteenth century fell for a scam concerning diamonds in a mysterious place such as the Valley of Diamonds.

Paul W. Pohwat, a consulting editor of Rocks & Minerals, is the collection manager (minerals) in the Department of Mineral Sciences at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution).

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