Visiting Sierra Leone

In 2009 I made my second visit to Sierra Leone in search of diamonds.Sierra Leone, in west Africa is one of the great sources of diamonds in West Africa. Unlike South African deposits, the diamonds of Sierra Leone, are typically found closer to the earths surface. As such, many small artisinal mines exist throughout the country.

Much of Sierra Leone's diamond deposits were initially found in the rivers - washed down from the kimberlite volcanoes which 100 million years ago, brought them out of the earth. These rivers, while less productive than before, still are a major area of mining activities. Often, miners have moved  from just mining in the rivers, to mining the banks of the rivers, dried up river beds, and ancient swamp areas.

An overgrown mining hole. The river in the background is visible.

A nicely dug pit, believe it or not, all by hand and by about 10 men.

A nicely dug pit, believe it or not, all by hand and by about 10 men.

In order to remove the diamond bearing material, the flooded out pits need to constantly be drained. This is done, in this case, the old fashioned way, with a bucket - but modified for efficiency.

When the pit is pretty much drained the miners go in with shovels to remove to diamond bearing grave and clay. This is moved to an elevated box where it's prepared for sifting. 

The diamonds are contained within a layer of gravel and clay. Large rocks are removed from this gravel, and then it's dolled out to other miners who pan separate the particles. 

The water helps to look though and further sort this concentrate for gems.

Most of the stones found tend to be these small sized pieces. Large gems are rare, but do occur.

Most of the stones found tend to be these small sized pieces. Large gems are rare, but do occur.

Mechanization is of course, a more practical way forward with mining. However it's not fool proof, and tends to increase costs enormously. One of the big issues are repairs to machinery - which is always breaking down, and of course, diesel gasoline.

This is me on one of the sorting machines used.

This is me on one of the sorting machines used.

With the right machines you can move a great deal of earth.

With the right machines you can move a great deal of earth.