Turquoise Spans Centuries and Cultures

turquoise-stone-patti-tuck-articleby Patti Tuck

Last revised in 2014, tanzanite, zircon and turquoise are listed to illustrate the winter blues of December’s birthstones.  Of these three, turquoise has been known for more than 10,000 years and occupies a space in civilization that no other stone has ever occupied.   Turquoise has been celebrated by the peoples of the Orient, the American Indians, and civilizations of Africa, most notably the Egyptians.  It is one of the few minerals that gives its name to anything that resembles its striking color – white/powdery blue to the color of a robin’s egg to green.

The word turquoise dates back to the 13th century, drawing from the French expression pierre tourques, “Turkish stone.” Early trade routes brought turquoise to Europe from the mines in central Asia passing through Turkey.  Ancient Persia (Iran) was the traditional source for sky blue turquoise. This color is often called “Persian blue” today, regardless of its origin.

For thousands of years, turquoise has spanned all cultures, prized as a symbol of wisdom, nobility and the power of immortality. It occupies a place in the history of human civilization that no other stone has ever occupied. It was especially esteemed by Egyptians, American Indians and the peoples of the Orient. This is the only mineral able to change its color depending on the environment. It has been surrounded by numerous legends and superstitions in most cultures, and in the distant past inspired awe and worship. It was used both in jewelry and for ritual purposes on all the continents. Records of it are found in the very first works about gems, as well as in a number of myths (especially those of the Navajo Indians). The death mask of Tutankhamun was studded with Turquoise, as were the mosaic masks dedicated to the gods, the fabulous inlaid skulls, shields and power statues of Montezuma, the last ruler of the Aztecs.

For nearly a thousand years, Native Americans have mined and fashioned turquoise, using it to guard their burial sites. Their gems have been found from Argentina to New Mexico. Indian priests wore it in ceremonies when calling upon the great spirit of the sky. Many honored turquoise as the universal stone, believing their minds would become one with the universe when wearing it.

Turquoise is found in only a few places on earth: dry and barren regions where acidic, copper-rich groundwater seeps downward and reacts with minerals that contain phosphorus and aluminum. The three best known turquoise sites are Iran, the Sinai and the United States. The result of this sedimentary process is a porous, semi-translucent to opaque compound of hydrated copper and aluminum phosphate.

For most of time, blue turquoise varieties were considered most desirable, while green turquoise was thought to be inferior. It was believed by the ancients that blue turquoise did not lose color over time, and that stones with lesser blues would eventually fade to green. However, history has shown that this is not the case. Since recent times, the demand for green turquoise has increased. In fact, there are several green turquoise varieties that are now considered to be some of the top ranked turquoise available today, including many of Nevada’s turquoise and also China’s’Skyhorse’ and ‘China Mountain’ varieties.

The demand for White Turquoise  has occurred fairly recently. There are critics and competitors who say it isn’t turquoise at all. However, White Buffalo Turquoise is found in veins like turquoise. Much of it is mined in Nevada in the same area as turquoise. The veins themselves are surrounded by a black chert, a black rock similar to flint. White turquoise cuts and polishes like its blue cousin.  There has been much debate  exchanged as to whether the white variety is actually turquoise.  This particular stone is often referred to as simply White Buffalo as the debate is ongoing.

Turquoise goes in and out of style.   However, if you live in Texas you should own at least one piece of this cultural icon…wear or decorate with it.  Enjoy the beautiful color as those before you.

Works cited:

Danchevskaya, O. Y. (n.d.). Where Does Turquoise Come From? Retrieved October 20, 2016, from https://tskies.com/where-does-turquoise-come-from/  Institute of http://www.gia.edu/turquoise-description








Comments are closed.