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?

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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.

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

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