Meetiyagoda Moonstone Mine in Sri Lanka
Meetiyagoda, also spelt „Mitiyagoda“, is situated in only 4 km distance from the ocean, 10 km north of Hikkaduwa. Meetiyagoda is famous for its moonstone mines. Although sales of jewellery are the main purpose of it, a guided tour at the main mine in the adjacent village of Domanwila can be recommended, as you will not only be invited to the exhibition rooms. First of all, you will see the pitch of the mine and the filtering out of the precious stones and the workshops of the lapidaries. The guides do not push you to give a tip.
Meetiyagoda is an illustrious name in the world of moonstone mining. It‘s Sri Lanka‘s largest moonstone mine and Sri Lankan moonstones are renowned for their blue shine that makes a difference to Indian moonstones. The finest and rarest moonstones have an almost transparent colourless body with a strong blue shine. Actually, Sri Lankan moonstones are those of highest value due to their dark blue reflections, although Mogok in Myanmar (Birma) has been the world‘s best primary source of highly esteemed blue-shining moonstones. Finds of valuable moonstones have become rarer in recent decades. On average, 50 to 100 rough moonstones of diverse qualites are mined per day in Meetiyagoda, they are from deposits in a depth of about 10 to 40 metres. Some decades ago, they could be found close to surface.
In contrast to gem mining in Ratnapura District, moonstone mining has not a millennia old tradition. Muslim merchants from Galle collecting kaolin from the Meetiyagoda area in 1906 were surprised to find moonstones in abundance. They cut and polished the raw moonstones and kept them in their show rooms along with traditional Sri Lankan gems. Moonstones later on became very popular with European travellers. Indeed it was the tourism sector that boosted the moonstone mining in Sri Lanka.
Moonstones in Meetiyagoda, like other gems in other areas of Sri Lanka, are extracted by shaft mining. Such mines onsist of narrow rectangular shafts lined with a strong frame of coconut wood beams are known as „yati illama“ in Sinhala.
What is a Moonstone? - And why is Meetiyagoda mine No.1?
Moonstone is a variety of the Adular belonging to the feldspar group of minerals. The chemical name is Sodium potassium aluminium silicate, with the formula (Na,K)AlSi3O8. Despite having a low hardness of 6 to 6.5, moonstone is a popular gemstone, as it is praised for the glow of inner light, which is called adularescence in gemology. The optical phenomenon of cloudy moonlight sheen is caused by light diffraction due to alternating layers of orthoclase and albite.
The fanciful name „moonstone“ was coined by the Greek, who associated this rare shining stone with lunar deities such as Selene and Isis. They valued moonstones as talismans for lovers in particular. The Romans believed moonstone to arouse sensitivity and love. They considered it to be marterialized rays of the moon. In Arab countries, some women sewed moonstone into their undergarments, as symbols of fertility. In India, the magical moonstone is believed to bring about sweet dreams and good fortune for those who wear it. In China, the moonstone is said to balance Yin and Yang. Moonstone was designated the emblem gemstone of State of Florida in 1970 to commemorate the moon landings, although it does not naturally occur in Florida.
The classic finding place in ancient Europe was the Swiss area of St. Gotthard, then known as Mount Adular. Apart from the Alps, deposits of moonstone occur near Jelenia Gora in Poland, in the fiord region of Larvik in Norway, in Lemmenjoki National Park in Finland, at Lake Sevan in Armenia, in Kashi (Kashgar) Prefecture of Xinjiang Autonomus Region in China, near Nanto city in Japan, in the Central Desert Region and in Blackbraes National Park in Australia, and in Chihuahua state in Mexico, in North Carolina and few other states of the USA.
The gem industry's finest and most abundant moonstone sources are in Sri Lanka, India, and Myanmar. Myanmar, formerly known as Birma, has by far the most moonstone mines. They are situated in Pyin-Oo-Lwin District near Mandalay, at Mogok city, which is also famous for the world‘s best ruby stones. Only a fraction of a percent of Indian moonstones rival the very best Sri Lankan ones. Indian moonstones are mined in Bagjunt and Ghorunjee in the state of Jharkand and in Kangeyam and Karur in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The largest source is Africa, but almost all moonstones of African production are inferior due to a yellowish skin colour.
The moonstone's body colour ranges from white to gray, brown, yellow, orange, or green. The bodies of the most precious moonstones are transparent. But what's so highly estimated, is more the adularescence of moonstones than their colour. This sheen is usually white. It can be a deep flame blue in the case of Sri Lankan moonstones. The more blue the adularescence, the higher the value of a moonstone. Thinner layers of alternating silicates refract more attractive sheens, whereas thick layers of silicates produce less colourful sheens. Historically, the most valuable moonstones with strong blue sheen are from Myanmar. But after this sought material has essentially been mined out in Myanmar, Meetiyagoda in Sri Lanka can claim to be today‘s number one moonstone mine, although blue moonstone has becoming increasingly rare here, too.