Cochise College           Student Papers in Geology

Geology Home Page                   physical geology  historical geology  planetary  gems           

Roger Weller, geology instructor

by Kayla Young
Physical Geology
Spring 2012

                                                                                          History of Turquoise

It is quite common to see turquoise in multiple kinds of Native American hand-made jewelry. The jewelry crafters really know how to show off its beautiful blue colored stones in the most appeasing way. They are quite unique, each having different markings or designs imbedded in the stone itself. Not only has it been used in modern jewelry today, but it has also been utilized thousands of years ago! Where does it come from? When did it become a popular gemstone and what was it used for? Through thorough research, these questions will be answered.

Turquoise is hydrous phosphate of aluminum and copper, Al 2 (OH) 3 PO 4 ·H 2 O+Cu, used as a gemstone. Its hardness is 5-6 and its luster is opaque and waxy. The gemstone colors vary from greenish gray to sky-blue; sky-blue being of the most value. Its permeability makes it easy to absorb grease and dirt which can make it a very unattractive green. The best turquoise specimens are found throughout Iran, Sinai Peninsula, and the south western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Mexico.)

Description: brown turquoise  Description: green turquoise  Description: pale turquoise  Description: persian turquoise 

Images listed from least valued to highest valued turquoise.

            How is turquoise formed?

Turquoise is a secondary mineral that forms as a result of saturating acidic solutions during the weathering and oxidation of pre-existing minerals. It is formed by the separation of meteoric groundwater through aluminous rock in the presence of copper (US Department of the Interior, 2002, pg 1). It is found as an opaque deposit in nodules, or veins within host rocks, or as thin crusts on the surface of rocks. Veins will vary in composition based on the materials from the rock they intrude. Turquoise deposits are often found around copper mines like the one in Bisbee, Arizona. Below is an example of a turquoise vein running through an igneous rock located in Bisbee.


 “Bisbee Blue” photo credit: R. Weller/Cochise College

Most turquoise contains varieties of brown or black matrixes which are the streaks or veins seen in the polished stones. Matrixes are fragments of the rock that the turquoise intruded therefore leaving pieces of itself in the gemstone. In the United States and China, these streaks are considered to be beautiful whereas other places in the world, like the Middle East, believe they are imperfections and actually devalue the stone.

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Photo credit: Roger Weller/Cochise College


History of Turquoise in Egypt

Turquoise is one of the first known gemstones known to man and has been mined, traded, and used for thousands of years. Egyptian turquoise was first found in Egypt well over 7,500 years ago. It was highly coveted by the Egyptians to be a sacred stone with supernatural powers. It was used by healers and worn by kings and pharaohs. King Nebkeperura Tutankhamun, or “King Tut”, the most famous of pharaohs, was buried in a coffin made up of pure gold, turquoise, lapis, carnelian, onyx, and colored glass. Inside many royal tombs, the priceless gemstone would be found along with kings and queens in hopes of bringing it along with them to the afterlife. Turquoise was popular amongst the Egyptians because it was associated to Hathor, the goddess of love, motherhood, joy, and music.

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Four turquoise bracelets were found on the mummified arm of Queen Zar, which are dated back to the second ruler of Egypt’s First Dynasty around 5,500 B.C. Sinai, Egypt was inhabited by the Monitu and was called Mafkat or “Country of Turquoise” because it was so plentiful in the land. Archeologists have recorded that the Egyptians were mining turquoise at Serebit al-Khadim on the Sinai Peninsula in 3000 B.C. (Durango Silver Company, pg1).

History of Turquoise in Persia

For a long time, turquoise from Persia was said to be the finest, having rich “Robin’s egg” blue color. Persian turquoise is found throughout Iran’s northeastern city of Neyshabur, located near the city of Mashhad in Khorasan Razavi Province and dates back to 4,000 B.C. There were many superstitions about the stone like its ability to bring good luck or health to the person carrying it. Persians believed that the reflection of a new moon on the stone’s surface could bring luck as well as guard against evil. As far as medical use, the Persians believed that looking at the stone could improve one’s eyesight so placing it on an inflamed eye was considered to be the cure. They also believed that a visual change in a turquoise owner’s stone could determine their health. At a time of illness or death, the stone would turn pale. As soon as it was placed in a new owner’s hand, the stone would return to its original beautiful color.

Turquoise was also used for decorating numerous things ranging from turbans to bridles. The Persians created mosaics, inlays and overlays that have embellished several monuments over the centuries. Because the Persian style of turquoise was so popular and coveted, it started being shipped all over the world. In fact, turquoise is thought to mean "Turkish stone", a reference to the long history of imports of Persian turquoise, through Turkey, to the West (Boston Bead Company, pg1).

History of Turquoise in the Americas

In the Americas, many tribes like the Pueblos, Navajos, Aztecs, Zunis and Mayans valued turquoise for its numerous uses. An extremely organized trade system for turquoise was established between the cultural provinces of southwestern America and the cultural centers of Central and South America. The tribes considered turquoise to be a very important trading item and it provided a means of communication between the various societies. The ancient tribes imbedded the gemstones into masks that they would use in religious and tribal ceremonies. They were also used for medical purposes. The Anasazi Indians as well as other tribes believed that the stone had supernatural powers and was capable of bringing good health, happiness and fortune to the bearer of the stone. As well as being used for trade and medicine, jewelry like beads for necklaces, crowns, and bracelets were also made from the Indian turquoise.

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 In North America, the tribe of the Anasazi Indians mined and hunted as early as 200 B.C. in areas all around Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. The most successful area having the finest turquoise deposits was the Cerrillos mine in New Mexico. Around 1000 A.D., the people of western Mexico discovered how to work with metals and began trading their metal items for turquoise with the Hohokam and Anasazi. There was a demand for turquoise for a while, but around 1100 A.D. a civil war demolished the Toltec Empire and the production and trading to the Toltecs ended. This brought an end to trading between North America and Mexico.

            Turquoise remained close and treasured by the Indian tribes although trading was not occurring as often as the olden days. Southwestern Indians dove into the jewelry industry in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. When the Europeans brought technology of working metals like silver with them to the New World, the American Indians began combining turquoise with silver to make their own distinct style of jewelry. The turquoise industry has endured spurts of high demand throughout the years and is getting harder to come by in the United States since the decline of copper mining. Native Americans still sell their hand-made turquoise jewelry throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and California.

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Works Cited