How South African Miners Who Worked Shifts After The Discovery Of Diamonds In The 1860s Were X-rayed

Image via Wikimedia Commons/James St. John


When they initially found Blink Klippe, they had no idea what it was or how important it was. However, they quickly learned that the bright, sparkling stone, which young Erasmus had discovered while playing on an ordinary day, was worth its weight in both monetary and aesthetic value.

The locals in South Africa had no idea what the stones were when diamonds were first discovered there. In 1867, a diamond was discovered on the property of a destitute Boer farmer named Daniel Jacobs, but they failed to identify the brilliant stone as a diamond. Since Brazil had been the main source of diamonds for at least 150 years, no one anticipated the country to have diamonds or seek for valuable stones.

Erasmus, a son of Jacob, acquired some lovely stones that he and other kids used for games. His mother noticed one particular pebble and introduced it to Schalk van Niekerk, a nearby farmer, who was taken by its beauty and offered to buy it. If only she had knew the wealth she had just gracefully given away, the woman grinned as she handed the man the stone.

The 15-year-old child was unaware that his discovery would distinguish his nation from the rest of Africa and eventually become one of its key exports. Niekerk examined the stone with a few people to determine its worth. It was quickly in the possession of W.G. Atherstone, a physician and amateur geologist, who identified it as a 21.25-carat diamond. Following the governor of Cape Colony’s £500 purchase of the diamond, prospectors gathered in the area in the hopes of striking it rich.

Two Englishmen, Cecil J. Rhodes and Barney Barnato, decided to buy the local mines. In 1888, they combined their interests to become the Kimberley-based De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited.

One mine developed a reliable technique in 1919 to determine whether its miners were bringing out uncut diamonds. Each shift ended with a radiation-filled scan of the miners. At the conclusion of each shift, they would have to pass through the x-ray machine for inspection. Some miners would evade this by swallowing gems or hiding them in self-inflicted wounds on their legs.

But the Englishmen made sure that even the smallest diamond, which a would-be robber may try to smuggle out of the mine in his belly, can be clearly recognized by a qualified radiologist.

In 1954, that procedure had become commonplace, and radiologists were x-raying South African mine workers before they departed the De Beers diamond mines in Kimberley at the conclusion of each shift.

South Africans were gate-kept out of their Blink Klippe (bright stones) until apartheid was gone, so the irony of the x-ray of the miners is in the innocence of their discovery.

The first diamond finds in South Africa, according to history, were alluvial. By 1869, the stones had been discovered on blue ground, which was eventually given the name kimberlite in honor of the mining community of Kimberley, far from any rivers or streams. Production started in January 1916 and continued until 1932, however due to the downturn in the diamond business, diamond mining operations were stopped. In 1945, work started again.

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