A Taste for Green: An American/European Perspective on Ancient Jade, Turquoise and Variscite Exchange

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Often along vast expanses, ancient societies traded certain commodities that were considered valuable either for functional or symbolic reasons, or rather, a combination of both factors. We shall address the state of the art with regard to the acquisition of jade, turquoise, or variscite, all of which share a characteristic greenish color and engaging appearance. We wish to explore how, in addition to constituting economic transactions, the transfers of these materials were also statements of social liaisons, personal capacities, or relationships to places or unseen forces.

We are centering on two study areas, Western Europe and México/Southwest US, which are far apart not just in geographical terms but also regarding their chronology and socioeconomic features. While some North and Mesoamerican groups range from relatively complex farming societies to state-like organizations during the 1st and 2nd Millennia AD, their European counterparts are comparatively simpler polities spanning the 5th - 3rd Millennia BC. By contrasting the archaeological evidence from diverse areas we may gain insight into the role that production and movement of green stones played in their respective political and ritual economies. Also, we think it useful to compare scientific approaches applied to this question in different parts of the globe.

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  • Documents (11)

  • Blue-green stone mosaics in the U. S. Southwest and Northwestern Mexico: origins, spatio-temporal distribution and potential meanings (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lindsay Shepard. Christopher Schwartz. Will Russell. Robert Weiner. Ben Nelson.

    Intricately-crafted mosaics are prevalent among blue-green stone artifacts created in prehispanic Mesoamerica, but are rarer in the prehistoric United States Southwest and Northwestern Mexico (SW/NW). Because they occur earlier in Mesoamerica and are the most Mesoamerican-like of the SW/NW blue-green stone creations, we propose that the production and use of these artifacts in the SW/NW was derived from Mesoamerica. We describe the degree to which mosaics manufactured in the SW/NW resemble and...

  • A colorful past: assessing motivations for the acquisition of turquoise in the ancient U.S. Southwest (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Saul Hedquist. Lewis Borck. Alyson Thibodeau.

    Turquoise is an icon of the U.S. Southwest, long drawing value as a metaphor for moisture in the arid region. As color and material, turquoise is fundamental to the worldviews of many indigenous groups. For the Hopi and Zuni people, the importance and use of turquoise dates back countless generations, to "time immemorial." Continuities in use (e.g., ornamental style and placement in offerings) suggest deep epistemological and ideological affinities; contemporary values are clearly visible in the...

  • From the green belt: an appraisal on the circulation of western Iberian variscite (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Carlos Rodriguez-Rellan. Ramón Fábregas Valcarce. António Faustino Carvalho.

    The Western half of the Iberian Peninsula plays a significant role for understanding the production and circulation of "green stone objects" (mainly variscite adornments, but also some jadeite axe heads) during the Neolithic and Copper Age of Western Europe. This importance lies in the presence in the area of two out of the three prehistoric variscite mines in Europe. Through an extensive review of the variscite adornments found in the archaeological contexts of Western Iberia, we will try to...

  • Green Treasures from the Magic Mountains: The Use of Jadeitite and Other Alpine Rocks in Neolithic Europe (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alison Sheridan. Pierre Pétrequin. Michel Errera.

    The results of a major, French-led international research program investigating the use of jadeitite and other Alpine rocks in Neolithic Europe - Project JADE and JADE2 - are summarized. The significance of the green color of most of these rocks, and of the montane location of their sources, is discussed in terms of the belief systems of the people who made, exchanged, and used the axe- and adze-heads and disc-rings made of these materials. The ways in which these materials were recognized in...

  • La piedra verde como motivo ce la colonización del Cañón De Bolaños en el Occidente de México (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Teresa Cabrero.

    Uno de los factores más importantes para la colonización del cañón de Bolaños fue la necesidad de establecer contacto de tipo comercial con el área de Chalchihuites donde se explotaba la codiciada piedra verde o malaquita. Lograron su objetivo a través del establecimiento y control de una ruta comercial que atravesaba la región de Bolaños; la adquisición y redistribución de la malaquita primero; y la turquesa después, por todo el occidente de México fue el eje rector de su economía. La turquesa...

  • Las piedras verdes en el Centro de Jalisco (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Martha Lorenza Lopez Mestas Camberos.

    Los objetos trabajados en una extensa variedad de piedras verdes fueron altamente apreciados por las culturas mesoamericanas desde tiempos tempranos. Lo anterior aplica para el Occidente de México, en donde su uso se encuentra ligado a las actividades económicas, rituales y políticas realizadas por las elites, desde el Formativo medio, documentado en sitios de los complejos Capacha, El Opeño y Pantano, y generalizado a partir del Formativo tardío entre los grupos pertenecientes a la tradición de...

  • Long distance provenances of jewelry (variscite & turquoise) along Atlantic Europe during the Neolithic (5th -3rd millenium) based on PIXE Analysis (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Guirec Querré. Thomas Calligaro. Serge Cassen. Salvador Dominguez-Bella.

    The exceptional quality of the green lithic adornments (jade axes, beads) deposited in the large grave mounds from Brittany, France, constitute the most impressive funeral architecture of the Neolithic period in Western Europe. The highest density of callaïs jewelry occurs in the Carnac region with over 800 green beads and pendants found in 33 Neolithic sites. A research program based on the chemical analysis of archaeological artifacts and geological samples from European deposits using the...

  • The manufacturing traces of the turquoise objects and the lapidary technology from Chaco Canyon: an experimental archaeology approach (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Emiliano Melgar. Joan Mathien.

    There are thousands of turquoise objects found in different sites of the American Southwest, and Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, is known as one of the principal areas that concentrated most of them. Unfortunately, most of the researches about these stones had been focused on their symbolic meaning, morphology, provenance, trade and use, but very few study their manufacturing traces and the organization of their production. In this paper, we will present a technological/traceological approach to...

  • The presence and potential representation of turquoise at the Mimbres Site of Galaz (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Will Russell. Sarah Klassen. Katherine Salazar.

    Turquoise, both the mineral and the color, are inexorably linked to contemporary ideas of the indigenous Southwest. Without doubt, the importance of turquoise extends back into prehispanic times, although we know relatively little about its cultural significance. The mineral turquoise may also have been represented in a more abstract way; J.J. Brody and Stephen Plog have suggested that Chacoan contemporaries of the Mimbres tradition may have used hachured elements on pottery to represent the...

  • Spaces and signs of transfer of jade and callaïs in the Neolithic of Western Europe (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Serge Cassen. Pierre Pétrequin. Guirec Querré. Valentin Grimaud.

    Two different groups of green stones with a distant origin are found together in the Neolithic tombs of the Carnac Region (Brittany, France): the Alpine jades (jadeitite, omphacitite, eclogite) were used as raw material for polished axes and disc-rings, while the Iberian callaïs (variscite, turquoise) for pendants and beads. The way in which these transfers took place will be the subject of this presentation, highlighting the specific features of each geographical area. With such aim in mind,...

  • The variscite of Gavà, Spain: characterization and system of exploitation and diffusion in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Miquel Molist. Josep Bosch. Anna Gómez. Sílvia Calvo. Mònica Borrell.

    This paper presents a synthesis regarding the exploitation of the variscite mineral in the prehistoric mines of Gava, Spain, as well as the manufacturing of ornaments and their dissemination during the Neolithic period. Special emphasis will be given to the results of the latest research in both the mineralogical characterization and archaeological interpretations derived.