History of Turquoise

Turquoise has been beloved for thousands of years in multiple locations around the world.  As a result, it has some of the very oldest traditions of any healing stone.  The name Turquoise comes from the French phrase, pierre turquoise, or “Turkish Stone”.  During the Medieval period, the Turks were responsible for introducing Persian Turquoise and Central Asian Turquoise into Europe, via Venetian merchants.

The earliest known Turquoise jewelry dates back to the very dawn of civilization.  Four Gold and Turquoise bracelets were found on the arms of the mummy of the Egyptian Queen Zer (5500 BCE).  The Turquoise most likely came from the Sinai Peninsula.  The Sinai Turquoise mine was one of the most extensively documented and organized mining operations of the ancient world.  It produced a more greenish-colored Turquoise, rather than the sky-blue Turquoise found in central Asian mines.  Egyptian records dating as far back as the reign of Pharaoh Semerkhet (c.2961 BCE), describe the Sinai Turquoise mine as requiring thousands of laborers.  The Turquoise extracted was used to make jewelry and ornaments ranging from weapon hilts to amulets, and was sometimes even used to decorate royal thrones.  According to Egyptian papyri records, Turquoise was connected to numerous deities, including Amun and Isis, and was a particularly valuable amulet for protecting and healing the eyes.

Persian Turquoise Tiara

The Persian Turquoise Tiara (Princess Margaret, UK)

Arab, Persian, and Turkish writers have often included passages about Turquoise in medical treatises.  It was believed to offer general protection and healing, particular for the eyes, as well as staving off everything from sunstroke to epilepsy, and from scorpion stings to the ‘evil eye’.  Small Turquoise beads have been used on bridles and have been woven into horse and camel manes since time untold, to protect them from the harsh desert sun and to give them vigor and energy for long journeys.  This belief that Turquoise protects horses and riders was transported to Europe around the 17th century and continues to be believed by many equestrians worldwide.  Turquoise is particularly thought to protect both rider and horse from injuries caused by a fall.While the Sinai mines have long since played out, similar mines in Iran and Afghanistan still actively produce beautiful stones.  Persian and Afghani Turquoise was widely traded throughout the Eurasian continent, as far west as Europe and east into India and Nepal.  Today, Turquoise is the national gemstone of Iran.  Turquoise from this region has a very even sky-blue color, and is slightly harder than North American Turquoise, which ranges from sky-blue to green.  Modern gem lore in Iran states that Turquoise brings good luck, and if the color changes it is a warning of either danger or infidelity.  Turquoise can, in fact, change color because it is a porous mineral.  When worn regularly it can absorb oils from the body which, over time, can change the color of the stone.

In Nepal, Turquoise is widely used for jewelry and decorations, along with Red Coral.  Turquoise is believed to hold both spiritual and protective qualities and was used in a variety of ceremonies.  For example, in traditional Tibetan marriage ceremonies, Turquoise is affixed to an arrow and carried on the back of the bride, to protect her and ensure that she is guided forward in a manner that will best serve her and her family.

Mesoamerican Turquoise was mined as early as 200 CE and used by the Mayans and the Aztecs for decorative and spiritual purposes.  In particular, highly-polished Turquoise chips were used to create marvelous mosaics.  The Aztec mosaics are particularly impressive and consist of many thousands of stones.  These mosaics encrusted shields, helmets, jewelry, cult statues, and elaborate masks.  Turquoise was valued so highly that the most important Aztec deity, the solar god, Xiuhlecuhtli, name translates to “Lord of Turquoise”.  The Aztec buried their dead with a small bead of Turquoise in their mouth, so that they would have a gift for the gods when the deceased arrived in the afterlife.

Archaeological evidence shows that Native American tribes have been mining Turquoise in the American Southwest for at least a millennium, if not far longer.  As in other cultures, the Turquoise was used for decorations and shamanic purposes, as well as being a valuable trade good.  Southwestern tribes, particularly the Navajo, Zuni, Apache, Hopi, and Pueblo peoples consider Turquoise to be a protective stone and one that bestows ‘goodness’ on its owner.  Bright Blue Turquoise is believed to be ‘male’ and is associated with Father Sky, while Green Turquoise is ‘female’ and represents Mother Earth.  Historically, Blue Turquoise was given to boys and used to decorate their cradle boards to help them grow into strong warriors.  Turquoise of both colors were considered essential components to the Medicine Bag of any great healer or shaman.

Navajo shamans famously used Turquoise in rain making ceremonies, by throwing the stone into a swift-moving river, or else holding it under running water. Turquoise is also tied to prayer sticks and is said to give shamans the ability to control and command the winds.  Today, many Southwestern tribes use Turquoise for cloud-bursting and as decorations on rainmaking sticks.  According to Apache lore, the most powerful Turquoise can be found at the end of a rainbow, where the ground is still moist from rain.  Such stones should be affixed to rifles or arrows, and will increase accuracy in hunting and warfare.  After his first successful hunt, a native boy is often given beads of Turquoise in celebration of his prowess.

To many Southwestern tribes, Turquoise is the most valuable gemstone of all and hardly any ceremony can be performed without it.  Small fetishes are carved out of, or decorated with, Turquoise and added to medicine bag bundles.  The bundles should not be touched by anyone other than the owner, and are carried for protection and good luck.  Turquoise can also be used in love spells, to attract both men and women and make them faithful to their lover.