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history of gemstones - 5

Although in the late nineteenth century science began to explain many of the phenomena attributed to gems, superstitions prevail. Steeped in myth and legend, countless beliefs and fascinating tales are related about the mysterious powers of gems and precious stones. Even in the sceptically age of today, they are believed to affect the wearer, often to the good and sometimes with disastrous consequences. For instance, in 1995 a woman swallowed a large diamond and when surgeon and nurses in Kitwit, Zaire operating on her, removed and stole it, the stone apparently avenged itself by causing the Ebola virus that killed the hospital staff and the spread through Africa.

India was always a fabulous source of gems, perhaps the only country that produced and exported them to Babylon and Persia. The Milinda0Panha of the first century BC specified that a diamond had to be pure throughout its volume and that it should be mounted together with the most closely gems. Int he days of Ptolemy, in the third century BC, there was a thriving export trade from India and Sri Lanka for gemstones, particularly diamonds from India and other precious gemstones from Sri Lanka. Pliny in 23-79 AD said that India produced more gemstones that any other land. Manuscripts from the temple town of Madurai in India indicate that there has been a three thousand year long tradition of mining and trading in them.

From the third century BC to the present day, the cutting and polishing of gemstones was and is still an esoteric art in India.

Men have speculated on the origin of gemstones. Theophratus the Greek thought that stones were fluids solidified through heat and cold. He believed that amber was solidified urine of the lynx, the male producing amber was of a red tinge. Other experts of his time said it was the rays of the setting sun congealed in the sea and then cast upon the shore that was amber while Greek poets described the resin as the tears shed by the Heliades when they heard of the death of their brother Phaeton.

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