Colombia Emerald Mines-early and current
Archaeological dating of Andean sites pinpoints the infancy of Colombian Emerald crystal collecting and fashioning around the year 500 A.D. Indigenous Indians in the area north of modern-day Bogotá mastered drilling techniques, but never developed lapidary skills beyond simple shaping. Apparently, they never attempted faceting. This changed when Christopher Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors arrived.

After the invading Spanish army found Colombian natives with Emeralds, they gathered information which enabled them to plan and execute large scale assaults against the Indians in the Emerald-rich mountainous region north of Bogotá.
At the time (mid-1600's), the Muzo Indians controlled the region and fought fiercely, but in vain, against the invading Spaniards. Today, descendants of the Muzos, called guaqueros, persist in risking their lives to dig for the gems while refusing to acknowledge anyone else's rights to the stones. This, coupled with the exceedingly violent nature of Colombia's society in the southern part of the country, provides a volatile backdrop for the industry.
Today, the Colombia government nominally controls all but one Emerald mine-the Muzo. The Muzo Mine, has alternated between private ownership, public operation, and even British ownership. It is currently worked under a 10-year lease to develop the 200 hectare (roughly 480 acres) which comprise the primary Muzo deposit. Tecminas owns the lease until 2004, and their employees live and work in an armed camp.
Bandits and paramilitary patrols lie in wait along the two roads leading to and from Muzo. They operate under two simple premises:
1. Passengers in vehicles traveling into the mines are carrying large sums of cash, and,:
2. Those traveling out are carrying valuable Emeralds
These groups operate with impunity, are heavily armed, and have successfully attacked armed convoys consisting of as many as fifty armored vehicles.

The Muzo mine "operation" is similarly surreal. Emerald deposits generally lie in calcite veins nestled in soft shale near the earth's surface. Bulldozers make repetitive swipes at the face of the sides of the steep valley slopes. There are several hundred workers, or piedreros, who earn approximately $600 per month.
In spite of the relatively low wage, Colombians queue up to fill vacancies-principally because of one fringe benefit - the monthly picando, when work crews surround the bulldozers as they dump their scrapings, carefully looking for flashes of white calcite. During the picando, workers are permitted to dig out Emeralds with their hands and small picks. A representative of the families who control Tecminas inspects their finds, selecting out the best chunks, known as gangas en bruto, for the company's owners. The piedreros are then allowed to pocket the remainder of their haul as a bonus for working at Muzo. The intrigue does not end here. Tecminas bulldozers dump tons of scraped shale and Emerald-bearing dirt into stream beds which carry the effluent downstream toward thousands of expectant guaqueros below.
On average, four or five guaqueros die each week in fights over Emeralds, women, and turf with more than a touch of alcohol, desperation, and jealousy thrown in for good measure. Ironically, the piedreros and guaqueros who brave and survive the violence of searching through mounds of shale and streambed tailings must then run the paramilitary and bandito-lined gauntlet along the roads from Muzo to Bogotá to finally earn their prize.