Georgia's largest amethyst cluster dubbed Muscadines of Oglethorpe finds a home at museum

The 'Muscadines of Oglethorpe have a prominent place in the Tellus Science Museum.

A cluster of nearly 250 amethyst crystals dug from deep in the soil of Oglethorpe County is a centerpiece for the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville.

The crystals are in a new, re-designed display case and prominently placed in the museum that is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute.

“It’s the largest amethyst cluster ever found in Georgia,” Tellus Museum Director Jose Santamaria said recently.

“It is not the prettiest amethyst you’ll ever see but it is the most interesting,” he said about the smoky-colored crystals christened with the name “Muscadines of Oglethorpe.”

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A big discovery

The piece was discovered by Chester Karwoski of Watkinsville and his mineral hunting companions. Karwoski, a retired University of Georgia professor and a rockhound who collects and sells minerals, located the piece in December 1994 on the property of Lewis Sanders in the Stephens community of Oglethorpe County.

Almost 30 years later the crystals have been awarded a center spot in a 9,000-square-foot section of the natural history museum that houses minerals from around the world, but specializes in those from Georgia and the Southeast.

“It has its own case and is in a prominent location. You cannot miss it,” Santamaria said. “We also have a few other pieces of amethyst from Oglethorpe County on display provided by the same group.”

Santamaria expressed appreciation to the landowner, who allowed Karwoski and his friends to bring in large equipment for the dig. Many times, private landowners will not allow such digs on their properties.

Tellus Science Museum Curator Ryan Roney is shown examining the crystals of the Muscadines of Oglethorpe.

“Instead of digging with a pick and shovel, he rents heavy equipment to do the initial digging, which is pretty unique among collectors,” said Santamaria, who has a strong interest in geology himself. “You don’t see that too frequently in the Southeast, but it gives them access to more potentially nice mineral specimens.”

“We’re appreciative of property owners that allow collecting on their property,” he said.

The landowner, Lewis Sanders, now 87, has farmed the land in Oglethorpe County since he was a child helping his father.

Sanders said he had no problem giving the rock hunters permission to dig on the property, but he was amazed himself at what lay beneath the surface.

“It amazed me. I don’t really know how they located it, but they did,” he said. “Nobody knew what he was going to find.”

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'Muscadines of Oglethorpe'

Amethyst comes in several shades of color, but deep purple is the most prized among collectors. The “Muscadines of Oglethorpe” don’t have the deep purple color, but the vein was remarkable in its size.

“Several years ago, my daughter found a piece there that in my opinion was a prettier piece than anything they found,” Sanders said.

Karwoski is a rock hound always looking for a place to dig. He owns Oconee Minerals and can often be found at mineral shows and various town festivals.

The site was provided to Karwoski by Frank Harris of Oglethorpe County, who would ramble fields looking for crystals. Harris found surface signs for crystals and told Karwoski, who sent a letter to Sanders asking for permission to dig.

Chester Karwoski of Watkinsville was instrumental in locating a deposit of amethyst in Oglethorpe County.

“He gave me a call and said, ‘Come on over,’” Karwoski said about how Sanders never hesitated.

Karwoski and Steve Pilcher, who operated a backhoe, found the vein of amethyst. Over time, a dozen others joined digs at the location, where more amethyst was unearthed. David Smith, another mineral collector, spent hours piecing the crystals of the Oglethorpe mass together after sections were fractured during the dig.

Years ago, the “Muscadines of Oglethorpe” were put on display at the Oglethorpe County Library. The Commercial Bank of Crawford provided a display case for the crystals, Karwoski said. About a year later, the cluster went to Tellus, one of the largest natural history museums in the South.

Karwoski said his team dug several times on the Sanders property sometimes at the depth of 12 to 15 feet. The last dig was in 2013 when he said nothing remarkable was found. However, during those years some pieces of amethyst were found that had better color than the large cluster prized for its size.

An educational and action-packed time to see the “Muscadines of Oglethorpe” occurred on June 9-10 when Tellus held its 32nd annual Rock Fest.

“Typically, it’s the biggest weekend of the year for us. It’s a two-day show and we have mineral dealers from over the Southeast and country,” Santamaria said.

In addition to numerous dealers, which included Karwoski and his Oconee Minerals, the event hosted activities for kids and demonstrations on polishing gems and jewelry.

The Tellus is a 120,000-square-foot museum that also has a planetarium, an observatory, and numerous fossil displays including an 80-foot brontosaurus and other dinosaur skeletons.

This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Amethyst cluster from Oglethorpe County sparkles in museum