How are Canadian Ammonites Mined at KORITE International?
Recently at KORITE’s minesite and production facility we had the opportunity to follow a single Canadian ammonite fossil specimen on its journey from far beneath the earth to a beautifully restored fossil suitable for display in a museum or private collection. The ammonite was encased in 71-million year old shale deep within the KORITE mine in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada where Korite miners discovered and excavated this fascinating specimen using ethical mining practices. We continue to follow this ammonite through to KORITE headquarters about 250 kilometers north in Calgary, Alberta, where skilled craftspeople work tirelessly to restore and preserve the ammonite. Each hour of painstaking work reveals more and more beauty which is truly rewarding for the preparitor. After more than 80 hours of work chipping, stabilizing and polishing, it will be sent off to its new home where it will be cherished for generations to come. We’ve captured this entire journey from start to finish in a unique timelapse video which highlights some of the amazing work that goes into these spectacular Canadian ammonites.
Local Treasures in Alberta, Canada
The KORITE mine is located just outside of Lethbridge in southern Alberta. It is an open-pit mine where a small but dedicated team uses heavy equipment to dig down through layer upon layer of rock along the riverbanks and flood plains of the St. Mary’s River. This is the only place on planet Earth where commercial quantities of gemstone-grade ammolite can be found. There are several mining "zones", each with different levels of viability for finding ammolite gemstones or fossilized ammonites. In one of these horizons, our team is constantly vigilant, trying to identify spherical balls of ironstone (called ‘concretions’) within the surrounding rock. In some cases, these ironstone concretions form around objects which have been buried and then fossilized in the earth over millions of years. The first Korite minesite was located in these geological horizons.
In other horizons, the ammonite fossils or pieces thereof can be randomly distributed in the numerous layers of shale. These fossils have been compressed and are stabilized in situ. This is the geological horizon of the current Korite mine
Once an ammonite is spotted during the excavation process, it is carefully and slowly removed. The first step in excavation is stabilization. The fossils are far too fragile to be removed until they are stabilized with fast drying glues. The whole exposed surface of the ammonite must be impregnated with glue. After the glue hardens, the fragile fossil is strong enough to be carefully removed. Miners use picks and hammers to carefully and slowly dig a trench around the fossil. They need to leave a minimum of 5 cm. around the fossil on all sides to ensure they don’t chip off a small corner of the precious specimen. After a deep enough trench is dug, they start to “pedestal” the fossil. This is a fancy term for starting to dig underneath the ammonite. Most times, during the careful hammering around the fossil, the shock of the hammering will cause the rock underneath to cleave and crack releasing the fossil. If the rock surrounding the fossil doesn’t fracture right away, it must be dug underneath on all sides slowly forming a pedestal underneath as the digging underneath reaches the center of the specimen. At some point, the miner will decide when he or she can remove the fossil. The fossil is flipped and placed in a tray so the underside can be stabilized before it is removed from the minesite. It then heads off to KORITE headquarters in Calgary, Alberta for the next steps in the process. Once mining operations in a particular area are complete, the land is fully restored and reclaimed leaving no trace that Korite was ever there. All mining pits are filled to provincial environmental standards, grades are contoured and natural grasses are replanted. Korite prides itself on its environmental stewardship so mined lands may continue to flourish generations after we’ve left.
Processing and Restoring Canadian Ammonites
Once in Calgary at the Korite production facility the Ammonite Fossil specimen is given a number and once a disposition release is received from the province of Alberta, the ammonite undergoes an extensive transformation to reveal it’s natural beauty. Part of this process can be seen in our timelapse video – Korite preparitors keep a meticulous journal outlining process, methods and any irregularities encountered during restoration. This fossil took over four days of work to complete at this stage. In this part of the process, we can observe four stages of restoration:
- Repairing parts shaken loose from the trip to Calgary or broken during excavation
- Removing the ammonite from any surrounding rock using micro jack hammers and other preparation tools
- Cleaning and polishing the surface of the ammonite to reveal its true beauty underneath
- Final stabilization, through filling any latent cracks or surface irregularities
Once this process is complete, the ammonite makes its way to our finishing department, where the last steps are completed before the ammonite is ready for its next home. The ammonite you see in the timelapse video is especially breathtaking and sold within days of its completion! It's not hard to see why, once you understand the time, passion, labour and heart that goes into finding, restoring and preparing these true Canadian treasures.
If you're interested in owning one of these majestic pieces of history, head over to our Canadian Ammonites page, where many colorful and exciting ammonites just like this are available to purchase!