In the northwest of Uruguay, about 50 km south of the city of Artigas, nestled in the basaltic subsoil, is located one of the most important agates and amethyst mining districts in the world. Its importance lies in the quality of these semiprecious stones, which can be classified as super-extra amethyst, by peaks of several decimetres in height and violet and blue colors. They are also highlighted by the large size of the extracted stones, which can be classified as mega-geodes. For this same reason, of all the mineral resources that the country has, the agate-amethyst quarries are the only deposits that can be considered “first class” according to international terminology.
AMETHYST: Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz often used in jewelry. The name comes from the Koine Greek ἀμέθυστος amethystos from ἀ- a-,"not" and μεθύσκω methysko /μεθύω methyo, "intoxicate", a reference to the belief that the stone protected its owner from drunkenness. The ancient Greeks wore amethyst and carved drinking vessels from it in the belief that it would prevent intoxication. In his poem "L'Amethyste, ou les Amours de Bacchus et d'Amethyste" (Amethyst or the loves of Bacchus and Amethyste), the French poet Remy Belleau (1528–1577) invented a myth in which Bacchus, the god of intoxication, of wine, and grapes was pursuing a maiden named Amethyste, who refused his affections. Amethyste prayed to the gods to remain chaste, a prayer which the chaste goddess Diana answered, transforming her into a white stone. Humbled by Amethyste's desire to remain chaste, Bacchus poured wine over the stone as an offering, dyeing the crystals purple.
AGATE: Agate is a rock consisting primarily of cryptocrystalline silica, chiefly chalcedony, alternating with microgranular quartz. It is characterized by its fineness of grain and variety of color. Although agates may be found in various kinds of host rock, they are classically associated with volcanic rocks and can be common in certain metamorphic rocks. The stone was given its name a Greek philosopher and naturalist, who discovered the stone along the shore line of the river Achates (in present-day Sicily), sometime between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. Colorful agates and other chalcedonies were obtained over 3,000 years ago from the Achates River, now called Dirillo.
From the social and economic point of view, the exploratory and extractive activity of the amethyst is an important source of employment generating approximately 600 direct jobs, to which are added those related to the processing of the extracted material and the indirect ones related to the demand for services. But also closely linked to mining, this mineral wealth supports an important micro business activity such as crafts workshops - precious stones carving, preparation of geodes, and manufacture of stone utilitarian handmade products. In the region there are around 50 quarries located in the area known as “Catalán”, of which about twenty are operative; they are exploited both in the open sky and in mining tunnels.
The products made in various types of quartz, in particular agates and amethysts, are characteristic of Artigas and its region and form part of its local identity. Therefore, the traditional monument to General José Artigas, father of the country, which is located in the main squares of all the Uruguayan cities and whose basement is usually covered with black granite, in the case of Artigas it is covered with agate tiles donated by local producers.