Native American Heritage Month!
November is Native American Heritage Month! Spend some time reading and exploring
the indigenous people’s history and contributions to this land called Turtle Island. In honor and celebration of my Native Heritage- Lakota/Seminole, I would like to share the origin and history of one of the most popular stones used to create jewelry-Turquoise. When you think of turquoise jewelry, I am sure that you have visions of jewelry created by the Hopi, Dine(Navajo), Zuni, and Pueblo, who are among some of the world’s best silversmiths and jewelers. While these tribal nations have a long history of mining and creating turquoise jewelry, this stone has been highly esteemed in other parts of the world as well. For example, the funeral mask of the Egyptian king Tutankhamen has inlaid pieces of turquoise. The Chinese, Tibetans, Uzbeks, indigenous peoples of South America, and the Persians have used this stone in their religious and non-sacred objects. The oldest turquoise mines in the world that are still in operation and have been for thousands of years are found in modern-day Iran and Iraq. The Persians exported the stone to various parts of Europe via Turkey, which accounts for the name of the stone being called “turquois”, which is French for the word “Turkish”.
Turquoise was so highly valued by the Aztecs and Incas that they carved and inlaid it on their deities. Emperor Moctezuma II presented a mask embellished with a turquoise mosaic of the revered deity Quetzalcoatl to the Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes as he approached the capital city of Tenochtitlan. Legend has it that Moctezuma believed these strange-looking visitors who were bearded and mounted on horses were supernatural beings who were ushering in Quetzalcoatl’s return, which unfortunately turned out not to be true.
According to Dine creation myth, First Man and First Woman made the sun out of turquoise and the moon out of white shell. Two pillars of each were created to separate the sky and earth. For the Native peoples of the Southwest, turquoise symbolizes the sky and water and is believed to be a stone for healing and protection. Babies are given bracelets and earrings shortly after birth for protection against disease and accidents. In whole or crushed form, turquoise is used in ceremonies, sandpainting, and other rituals. Bits of turquoise wrapped around stone fetishes carved in shapes of animals are used as talismans for hunters.
Turquoise has been used to create beautiful and enduring works of jewelry and art. Objects created in antiquity continue to inspire and motivate contemporary jewelers. As a jewelry artist, I love creating pieces with turquoise. There is a vibrancy about turquoise that is almost magical for me. It is like bringing a piece of the sky and all its splendor into one of my designs and sharing it with the world.
In my next blog, I will tell you about the different turquoise types and how to know what is genuine and what is not.