There Are 72,000 Tons of Diamonds Hiding Throughout This Town in Germany
The tiny town of Nördlingen, in the German state of Bavaria, has a quaint kind of storybook charm about it. But what's hiding in the village's buildings and foundation might make it one of the glitziest places on Earth: Nördlingen is bejeweled with the equivalent of 72,000 tons of diamonds, according to Smithsonian.
The diamonds, which are strewn throughout Nördlingen, aren't just any gemstones either; they formed roughly 15 million years ago, when an asteroid traveling at a speed of approximately 15.5 miles per second struck the Earth. Geologists estimate that the space rock measured about one kilometer wide (the same size as modern-day Nördlingen) and weighed close to 3 billion tons. Upon making contact, it created intense heat and pressure—enough to produce a coarse-grained rock called suevite, which consists of glass, crystals, and diamonds.
When settlers arrived at the site millions of years later in 898 CE, they had no idea they were building their homes and businesses on land that had the highest diamond concentration of any place on Earth, as the diamonds scattered throughout the area were too small to see with the naked eye. For years, Nördlingen locals assumed the crater's origin was volcanic. It wasn't until the 1960s that it was confirmed to have come from an asteroid.
Not knowing any better, residents used the suevite as a building material to construct their town. As a result, many of Nördlingen's most famous structures—including St. George's Church and a protective perimeter wall leftover from the Middle Ages—have a high carat value.
Today, residents of Nördlingen know they're living atop tons of diamonds, but they're not about to tear apart their town to sell off the materials. The diamonds in suevite are tiny—less than 0.2mm across—and are therefore practically worthless, even in such high concentrations. But the German town has found different ways to profit from their unusual claim to fame. Tourists come from around the world to appreciate Nördlingen's glimmering architecture and tour the Ries Crater Museum, which displays local samples and those from other craters around the world.