History of Agate

Agate has one of the oldest historical traditions of any healing stone. It is included in virtually every known lapidary, texts which describe gemstones and their powers. Archaeological evidence amply shows that Agates have been treasured since the very earliest times. Agates have been found in many Stone Age graves and appear to have been kept either for their beauty or, perhaps, for their energetic power. Early lapidaries, dating as far back as 3000 BCE, referenced seals, rings, beads, and other ornaments which were carved out of Agate. The Sumerians were the first to describe the power of stones, and their texts state that wearing Agate gave a person special favor with the gods.

The name “Agate” was first used by the Greek writer Theophrastus (372-287 BCE). He wrote that all Agates came from a Sicilian river then called the Achates River, and today known as the Dirillo River. Agates are still found along this river today. In the 1st century, Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) repeated Theophrastus’ claim and further stated that looking at Agate rested the eyes and that sucking on a piece of Agate could quench thirst. As a result of these beliefs, Agate was still being prescribed by druggists for treating eye conditions as recently as the early 20th century.


Dirillo River, Sicily

While Agates can be found with naturally vivid colors, the majority of Agates worldwide are colorless or gray. As early as the Roman era, these duller Agates were artificially dyed brighter shades. This practice was perfected in the 19th century in the Agate region of Idar-Oberstein, in the Rhineland of southwest Germany. The exact details about the dying process were closely-held commercial secrets. What is known is that the pigments were inorganic, since organic dyes will fade over time and these dyed agates from the Rhineland remain brightly-colored despite the passing of the decades.

Today, it is relatively easy to find brightly-colored natural and dyed Agates. Since 2007, all dyed Agates are legally required in the United States to be labels as “dyed” or “treated.” This law is sometimes followed by wholesale businesses, but is often ignored by stores that sell directly to customers. If an Agate is vividly colored but relatively cheap, it is probably dyed. For example, these Agate windchimes have been dyed, the hot pink and dark blue, and dark purple are clearly artificial. Most tumbled Agates are natural, but be wary of cheap agates that are hot pink, neon blue, and similar shades.