by Olga BAZANOVA, journalist
One of the recent Moscow highlights-both for specialists and the general public-was a rather unusual exhibition called BEYOND THE DIAMOND FACET (Za Granyu Almaza) which marked 50 years of the discovery of the first diamonds deposit in the northern republic of Yakutia and the foundation of its city of Mirny. The exhibition was sponsored by the RF Ministry of Culture, the State Central Museum of Modern History of Russia, the Yakutsk Amalgamated State Museum of History and Culture of Peoples of the North named after Yemelian Yaroslavsky and the Historical-Industrial Museum of the ALROSA Company.
For centuries ago South Africa was believed to be the one and only birth-place of diamonds. But the celebrated pioneer of Russian science, Mikhail Lomonosov (1711 - 1765), Member of the St. Petersburg Academy, who contributed to many branches of research, expressed resolute opposition to such views. He wrote: "Let us prospect for metals, gold, silver and such like; let us find our way to precious stones, such as emeralds, slates, rubies and diamonds. Abundant proofs lead me to conclude that Nature reigns supreme with its riches in our northern regions."
And the prophetic hopes of the outstanding Russian scholar did come true. It was Yakutia in the north-east of this country that turned to be the "treasure-house" of Russia. The Republic of Sakha, as it is called now, contains under the cover of permafrost deposits of diamonds, gold, coal and tin. And that is not all: experts have discovered more than 40 thous. sites with over 60 different mineral deposits. The region now supplies 99 percent of Russia's output of diamonds-one quarter of the world output of these precious minerals, contributing to the state treasury over 1.5 bin. dollars a year.
Having said that, what lies behind these impressive statistics? The details were supplied by an exhibition which opened earlier this year at the State Central Museum of Contemporary Russian History. Its first section described the history of the Republic of Sakha, its people, natural resources, geographical features and climate. Visitors learn that the Yakut nationality was formed in the 10th- 16th centuries (their Turkic forefathers came from the near - Baikal region and mixed with the local paleoasiatic tribes).
The first Russians, including peasant settlers, appeared in this region in the 17th century. Working against hard odds, the newcomers developed farming and market-gardening and taught the natives farming skills, thus paving their own way further to the north. Exhibition displays feature a number of photos of the late 19th - early 20th centuries, including those of Russian and Yakut families, pictures of local centenarians, including members of small ethnic groups like the Yukagirs, Evenks and Chukchis.
The display also featured some truly remarkable objects of local crafts like fur coats embroidered with beads, female silver jewelry of the 19th century-bracelets, ear-rings, belts, etc. And there were also national musical instruments, decorative festal tableware and articles of mammoth bone.
The second section of the exhibition - "Road to Diamonds"-traces the establishment and development of the diamond-mining industry from the 1950s. The "starting point" of the industry were prospecting efforts of the 1920s and 1930s in the Urals, the Eastern Sayans and along the Yenisei. That was followed by comprehensive comparative studies of geological structures within and without the USSR. The final conclusion was that there are remarkable similarities
between geological structures of kimberlite deposits of South Africa and of the Siberian platform.
The explorations were interrupted by the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War with Nazi Germany. It was only after the war that prospecting work was resumed first by the Tungusky and later by the Vilyuisky geological expeditions. And it were geologists of the latter team who "stumbled upon" the first Yakut diamond on August 7, 1949. On June 13,1955, geologists of the Amakinskaya expedition discovered a total of 13 precious crystals in a heap of kimberlite rubble. The discoveries made this country the biggest "producer" of diamonds in the world.
That was the "starting point" of the MIR volcanic pipe - the richest deposit mined by the open-cut method from 1957 to 2001. Diamonds from the deposit supplied the bulk of the whole our output in the 1960s. During the next decade it was joined by the deposits called INTERNATSIONALNAYA and AYKHAL (Yakut - "glory") and in the 1980s by the UDACHNAYA, and in the 1990s by the YUBILEYNAYA.
The display included the photo of the geologist L. Popugayeva - the discoverer of the first diamond deposit in the Soviet Union, and some of her colleagues together with their tools and the first mining machinery and equipment.
The exhibition ended with a display demonstrating Yakutia's progress over the past few decades. 1992 saw the establishment of the ALROSA Company ("Diamonds of Russia-Sakha") which combined for the first time the mining of diamonds, their grading and sales both at home and abroad. The company accounts for 70 percent of the budget of the republic. The company management, however, regards as their main asset trained personnel. Members of its staff are provided with adequate residential and other accommodations which is especially important in the cold northern climate.
The ALROSA also takes care of the local cultural traditions, as demonstrated by photographs of different shows and drama productions, including special shows for children.
At the present time the company management is working on a program of transforming it into an inter-departmental transnational structure. The range of its operations has surpassed the borders of Yakutia and now includes the Krasnoyarsk Territory, Arkhangelsk, Irkutsk and Voronezh regions and Karelia. It even extends to the African continent where Russian experts are developing rich diamond deposits in Angola.
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