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A fairy tale town that’s—no fairy tale, this—made of diamonds

by Greg Klein | November 24, 2017

Sitting amid a 72,000-tonne supply and featuring a 5,000-carat diamond church, this Bavarian city might strain the imagination of even the most feverish newsletter writer. But Nordlingen’s diamonds are real, albeit too small to have economic value. Matthew Vickery described his visit in a BBC report this week.

A fairy tale town that’s—no fairy tale, this—made of diamonds

The picture book town seen from the
tower of St. George’s 5,000-carat church.

The ninth-century town was built largely of suevite, in which the locally quarried variety comes “embedded with millions of tiny diamonds, in a concentration seen nowhere else in the world,” he states. As a result, the town’s buildings, city walls and other structures display a “shimmering” effect that locals take for granted.

As SmithsonianMag.com explains, the tiny stones were created not at depth but on surface about 15 million years ago when the site of the future town got clobbered by a one-kilometre-wide, three-billion-ton asteroid. The collision created suevite, “an impact breccia or coarse-grained rock comprised of angular fragments that can include glass, crystal and diamonds, and is commonly found at impact sites such as this one.

“When the asteroid hit the Earth, the force caused graphite-bearing gneiss rocks in the region to form diamonds due to the immense pressure—believed to have been 60 gigapascals, according to one study.”

Fifteen million years later, the locals assumed the circular town’s basin was created by a volcano which they confidently presumed to be extinct. A 1960s study by two American geologists determined the 24-kilometre-long Ries crater’s extra-terrestrial instigator. In the 1990s British researchers discovered the microscopic diamonds, attributing to the crater a not-quite-43-101 estimate of 72,000 tonnes.

“Although suevite can be found in other parts of the world from similar impacts, nowhere is the gemstone concentration as high as it is in Nordlingen,” points out Vickery. But the “gemstones” are actually not gem-quality. The tower watchman for the 5,000-carat-encrusted church of St. George tells him that the diamonds are luckily “very, very small, otherwise the tower would’ve been taken down a long time ago.”

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