Stone imports from all over began to boom in the early 1990s, according to the United States Geological Survey. In 1992, Americans imported about $400 million worth of stone. By 2010, the import market was $1.8 billion with even higher marks before that. The monument industry uses something like 40 percent of the granite that comes into the country, depending on the year. "It is so bizarre that we can buy finished stone from overseas cheaper than we can buy unfinished stone here." Anderson said.
At the same time, Italy and Canada, which had been this country's big granite suppliers, saw fierce competition spring up from Brazil (now our leading granite supplier), China, and India. That housing boom? New cheap Asian supplies of granite are one reason so many McMansions came with granite countertops.
"We go to conventions. At one point, we started to count how many people from India from there. Then we started to count how many people were from India and China. Then, we started to count how many were left from Barre, Vermont or Elberton, Georgia," Burke said. "Because the number used to be well over 50 percent. Now it's down to two people."
Not that the monument makers are upset about all that. They welcome the cheaper raw materials and the ability that gives them to offer their customers more ornate stones for a lower price. That's the only way they can compete with cremation's low prices.
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There is something funny about black granite, though. Every granite is a little different. Granites are igneous rocks formed from a mix of minerals--silica, alumina, feldspar, quartz, among others--found in magma. The particular mineral mix endows the stone with its particular color. Real granite comes in many different colors, from green and pink to gray and not-quite-black.
At Washington Cemetery, though, the newest headstones are black-black. They, in fact, are defined by their lack of other colors. They go commercially under names like Jet Black, Zoom Black, Premium Black, and India Black. All are sold as black granite.
But black granite is not actually granite. Take this collection of dozens of black stones for sale: almost none are actually granites. They are dolerites and gabbros and diorites and hornblende-amphibolites and basalts. These are all great rocks, but their names lack the patina that's grown on the word granite. In other words, "black granite" is the Chilean sea bass of the stone world.
Much of it comes from India from quarries in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, a scholar has found. The dolerites of Karnakata, for example, are found in large dykes that cut through the Dharwar craton, a massive geological formation that's one of the five pieces that makes up the Indian subcontinent. A geologist could spend a lifetime proposing theories about how exactly "Zoom Black" was formed in its geological home 110 miles outside Bangalore on the former Hulkunda Coffee Estate.