How Many Diamonds Can Fit in a Human Stomach?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Nov. 15 2012 3:38 PM

The Billion-Dollar Stomach

How many dollars’ worth of diamonds can you swallow?

A model holds the 'Archduke Joseph' historical diamond.
A human stomach could hold no more than 70,000 one-carat diamonds

Photograph by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images.

Police in South Africa arrested a drug smuggler on Tuesday who was carrying 220 diamonds, worth $2.3 million, in his stomach. How many dollars’ worth of diamonds can the human stomach hold?


Billions. The volume of a human stomach is about four liters (or approximately one gallon) at full stretch. The 530-carat Cullinan I, on display at the Tower of London, is likely the world’s most valuable stone, worth more than $400 million. Since the density of diamond is 17,565 carats per liter, the volume of the Cullinan I is just 0.03 liters, or less than 1 percent of stomach capacity. A human stomach would still have plenty of room for the 317-carat Cullinan II ($200 million and 0.02 liters), the 203-carat Millennium Star ($200 million and 0.01 liters), and the 45-carat Hope blue diamond ($200 million and 0.003 liters). That’s $1 billion worth of stones occupying just 0.063 liters, or 1.6 percent of stomach volume. Because of the odd shape of the stones, it’s unlikely that the stomach could be packed solid with large diamonds. Still, with access to the world’s most celebrated diamonds, the value of an average stomach could certainly swell past a few billion dollars.

Without access to high-value stones, the smuggler’s potential haul drops significantly. A human stomach could hold no more than 70,000 one-carat diamonds, and probably a lot less than that due to imperfect packing. At around $4,000 per stone, the stomach would max out at just $280 million.

Even if you could pack a stomach completely full of diamonds, experienced smugglers know it would be too risky. A fully-loaded stomach looks rigid and distended, and many smugglers have been nabbed based solely on the appearance of their abdomens.

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.

Brian Palmer writes about science, medicine, and the environment for Slate and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Email him at Follow him on Twitter.


The World

How Canada’s Shooting Tragedies Have Shaped Its Gun Control Politics

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?


“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 10:39 PM Avengers: Age of Ultron Looks Like a Fun, Sprawling, and Extremely Satisfying Sequel
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.