|Gem experts say the emerald yielded at a North Carolina farm may be the biggest ever uncovered in North America. (AP)|
Although an emerald this size is an unusual find, one geologist says the prevalence of gemstones here scratches the surface of a rich geological history in North Carolina.
"We can see that really no place on earth today was any more geologically spectacular than North Carolina in the past," said Dr. Kevin Stewart, who has been a professor of Geological Sciences at the University of North Carolina for 28 years.
Geologists believe you can find huge sapphires and emeralds in North Carolina similar to those found in far off places like South America and Africa because the two used to be connected. Stewart’s research focuses on the changes in the earth’s crust and the plate tectonic history of mountainous areas.
"Emeralds are pretty but the way we read the history of the earth is rocks," Stewart says. "What is neat is the really long history we have, and being able to read this through the rocks that aren't gemstones. Once we start reading those rocks you can really start to get an interesting geological imagination to what this place use to really look like."
He says the discovery of rocks and gems in North Carolina, like those in Africa and South America, is proof that the seven continents were once attached. Geologists have studied more than a billion years of plate tectonic movement in North Carolina. The Appalachian Mountains in the area used to be the size of the Himalayas, and included huge exploding volcanoes. But the continents eventually pushed apart as the earth's outer shell broke into pieces and moved around.
"So when I’m sitting in my office here in Chapel Hill, it used to be attached to South America," Stewart said.
So while gem-lovers are fascinated by what may be the biggest emerald ever uncovered in North America, scientists in North Carolina are using the new found attention to showcase the state’s 1.8-Billion-year-old geological history that is closely connected to far-off places around the world.