Turquoise was one of the very first gemstones to be mined, and the beautiful blues and greens have captured humanity’s imagination ever since. For thousands of years, Turquoise has spanned across cultures, prized as a symbol of the heavens, imbued with wisdom, nobility and the power of immortality. Among the Ancient Egyptians, Persians and Chinese, Aztecs and Incas of South America, and Native North Americans, Turquoise was sacred in its adornment for power, luck, health, and Protection.
The first known turquoise beads date back to Mesopotamia 7,000 years ago. Found throughout the arid ancient world, Turquoise was soft enough to be carved by early tools, making it an ideal choice for statues, jewelry, and mosaics. By 3,000 B.C., Turquoise was being systematically mined and used in both ritual as well as adornment, with vast amounts fashioned into jewelry or to decorate temples and the tombs of royalty. Records from the reign of Pharaoh Semerkhet (c. 2923-2915 BCE) detail extensive mining operations in the Sinai Peninsula employing thousands of laborers. The stone was associated with the sky goddess Hathor, whose titles include “Lady of Turquoise.”
By 1,000 B.C.E., Turquoise became a favorite of Chinese artisanal carvers, second only to Jade in popularity. In Tibet, the green varietal was favored and is still the national gem to this day. Tibetans and Mongolians thought Turquoise could keep riders from falling off horses, which led to the practice of decorating bridals and saddles with the green stone. It was also believed to be a stone of protection from illness and the evil eye, impart good health, and invite good fortune.
In Persia (today known as Iran), a denser, robins-egg blue Turquoise has been mined for over 2,000 years and was considered the most valued of all stones, often embellished with gold, and used to decorate ornamental works of all kinds, including thrones, sword hilts and daggers, horse trappings, bowls and cups, jewelry, purses, and religious objects. Early Persians believed turquoise represented the heavens because of its perfect blue color and even used it to cover the domes of palaces and places of worship. Carvings of specimens from the two oldest mines in the region, Sarabit el-Khadim and Wadi Maghareh, have been found all the way across the continent, evidence the Persian Turquoise was highly traded even thousands of years ago. The ancient Iranian’s believed seeing a Turquoise and new moon at the same time would impart good fortune, immeasurable wealth, and protection from evil. It was also thought to warn the wearer of danger or sickness by changing color. As Turquoise is a porous stone, it can absorb oil, and so can actually change color when worn next to the skin, so maybe they weren’t entirely wrong.
Turquoise remained one of Iran's principal exports all the way until WWI, and the name Turquoise even comes from the French word for “Turkish,” as the Persian variety was transported to Europe via Turkey.
In the Americas, Turquoise was equally honored and utilized throughout the rise and fall of Meso and South American civilizations. Evidence of Turquoise jewelry, art, and even trading has been found all the way back to the peaceful Caral culture in the Supe Valley, Peru, the oldest city in the Western Hemisphere dating back to 4.5 thousand years. The Teotihuacan civilization, which dominated from the 4 th to 7 th centuries AD, used Turquoise to decorate their gods and signify chiefs and priests. According to the records of Spanish conquistadors, the Aztec civilization valued Chalchihuitl, or Turquoise more highly than gold, believing the god Quetzalcoatl taught them the art of cutting and polishing turquoise. Elaborate mosaics containing thousands of pieces of green and blue Turquoise still exist to this day, giving us a window into their history and myths. Seen as the divine representation of the sky, Turquoise was made as offerings to the gods, and used in creating ceremonial masks.
Fragments of the stone were placed in the mouths of important people when buried, and rulers wore strings of turquoise beads as a mark of distinction. The Aztec fire god, the supreme Sun deity, was called the “Lord of the Turquoise,” and was depicted costumed in the stone, with a Turquoise crown, breast pendant, and a shield covered in Turquoise mosaics. His alter ego was Xiuhcoat, the "Turquoise Serpent," who would drive the moon and stars of night to make way for day.
Toltec trading introduced Turquoise to the Mayans, who valued it along with Jade as a sacred gem. Mosaics decorated ceremonial objects such as masks and jewelry have been found in sites such as Chichén Itzá in the Yucatan, and wooden objects overlaid with turquoise have been dredged from sacred cenotes that were thrown in as gifts to the gods.
In North America, various native tribes of the Southwest have considered Turquoise a sacred stone for over two thousand years, and have been working the numerous deposits for at least one thousand years. The oldest and largest turquoise pit in the US is the Cerrillos mine, in what is now New Mexico. Logs and tree trunks ladders were sloped down to the bottom of the pit and notched with toeholes, where the turquoise was broken out of the matrix rock using picks of deer horn and stone hammers. Turquoise was seen as a symbol of life, known as “the fallen sky stone.” One ancient legend tells that Turquoise was created during a dance to celebrate the arrival of rain. It’s said their tears of joy blended with the rain and seeped into the Earth to become turquoise. Tribes throughout the Southwest used Turquoise to bring much needed rain by tossing chips into a river as an offering to the rain gods. Green Turquoise was associated with Mother Earth, while blue Turquoise was associated with Father Sky. Shamans believed the stone possessed powers of healing, and was cherished as a gemstone of good luck, strength and long life. The Navajo believed Turquoise Woman was a variant of Changing Woman, one of the chief female dieties.
Chips of turquoise was used as currency throughout various tribes, and was fashioned into beads, pendants, and ceremonial objects. The Pueblo and Apache people believed a piece of turquoise attached to a bow would give the archer perfect aim, and small fetish animal carvings were believed to ensure a successful hunt. It’s even said the secret cult-room of the Pueblo’s High Priest of the Rains still contains an altar comprising two quartz and turquoise columns and a heart-shaped stone said to be the heart of the world.
When Spanish introduced silversmithing to the Navajo, Turquoise jewelry became even more proliferate, with each tribe developing their own traditional style. Popularity for Turquoise within the United States surged in the early 1900s when high-grade veins were discovered alongside copper mines in Nevada and Arizona, and the Southwestern Turquoise, valued for its matrix pattern and color became even more sought after than Persian. The fascination with this stone continues to this day.
How is Turquoise formed?
Turquoise is what is considered a secondary element. As water moves through rock, minerals such as copper, aluminum and iron are dissolved, and over millions of years these minerals accumulate in pores and crevices and then oxidize within copper and iron-rich rock, forming Turquoise within arid climates. The color of the stone can vary depending on the amount of iron or copper minerals present. Since turquoise forms in other rocks, it often veined with other minerals to create a beautiful matrix.
The process of formation can differ from region to region, and even from different locations in the same region, leading to unique turquoise appearances, densities, and lusters. For this reason, turquoise is often named after the mine from which it came. An example is “Sleeping Beauty Turquoise” which comes from the sleeping beauty mine in Arizona. While some Turquoise can be almost as hard as quartz, some can be quite soft and is commercially treated with stabilizers before carving. The more copper inclusion, the brighter the blue the stone will be, while more iron inclusions will turn the Turquoise a greener shade.
Today, Turquoise has been devalued as a precious to semi-precious stone due to the widespread ability to imitate the gem. Faking Turquoise isn’t new… it was such a popular stone that the ancient Egyptians found a way to simulate it with colored enamels and ceramics. Today, white Howlite is typically dyed and passed off as the teal mineral. That being said, true Turquoise is becoming increasingly rare as very few commercial mines are still producing today.
Though it may not be revered as the Stone of the Gods in the same way as it once was, Turquoise’s energetic properties continue to reverberate down through ages. Turquoise today is associated with wholeness, protection, and spiritual expansion. It’s a Master Healer, promoting an energetic flow of prana and vitality, and connecting the physical body to its spiritual counterpart. Physically, it’s said to promote oxygen within the blood, reduce inflammation, and boost the immune system, while emotionally it balances and recharges in times of trial or depletion, bringing in peace and an objective Perspective.
Associated with the Throat Chakra, Turquoise is known to help facilitate communication, especially in regards to our needs and our inner wisdom. It instills us with an innate sense of power, and completion, giving courage to those afraid to share their truths and knowledge and helping us realize that when we speak from the wholeness of our being, we all have something to contribute to the collective.
Used as a talisman for personal protection across the world, Turquoise is now understood to protect us physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but also protects us from our own self-judgment. It’s an ancient Grandmother/Grandfather ally, reminding us that our experiences, including perceived mistakes or traumas, help shape who we grow into, and that no part of our self is unworthy of acceptance. It’s said Turquoise can ease loneliness by bringing in friends and community. Equally important, it inspires the wisdom of compassionate selfishness and emotional boundaries… for when our own cup is finally filled to the brim, it cannot help but overflow to others. Like in the creation myth of Turquoise, in which the stone formed from tears of shared gratitude mingled with the rain, when we share our compassion and joy, we cannot help but receive it back.
Correlated with Water, Air, Earth, and Fire, Turquoise is said to contain the power and unity of the life-giving Storm element, thus imbuing it with the property of transformation. We cannot remain stagnate… We are ever-expanding, ever-changing, and that is precisely how we spiritually evolve. It’s a symbol of the eternal connection between the Sky and Earth, the spiritual world and the physical world, united by the ever-mutable life-giving cycle of rain, representative of our emotions. By connecting the two, our physical bodies with our etheric souls through our emotional experiences, we are able to expand and reach enlightenment.