Ancient Uses of Rocks and Minerals
The odd and unique beliefs and things mankind has used rocks and minerals for over the centuries is truly a fascinating journey to learn about. Enjoy!
AMAZONITE – Was used extensively by the Egyptians and is called the stone of courage and is said to be named after the Amazon women warriors. Some archaeological evidence suggests that the Amazonians were a matriarchal society during the Bronze Age.
AMETHYST - The name "amethyst" comes from the Greek word amethustos which means "not drunken." In the ancient world most sources of water were not safe to drink so everyone would drink wine. They would carry a piece of Amethyst believing that it would ward of the effects of alcohol so they would not suffer the many perils associated with being too drunk.
COPAL AMBER - Since ancient times, Copal has been considered sacred to the people of Mexico, as well as South and Central America. It goes as far back to the Mayan and Aztec cultures. Mass amounts of copal resin were burned atop the Aztec and Mayan pyramids as offerings to the gods and deities. In the Mayan ruins, copal was discovered in the burial grounds, proving its spiritual significance.
APATITE - The bones and teeth of most animals, including humans, are composed of calcium phosphate, which is the same material as Apatite. Moon rocks collected by astronauts during the Apollo program contain traces of apatite.
AQUAMARINE - The Romans believed that if the figure of a frog were carved on an aquamarine, it served to reconcile enemies and make them friends. Another Roman legend stated that the stone absorbs the atmosphere of young love: When blessed and worn, it joins in love, and does great things. Aquamarine was also considered the most appropriate morning gift to give to a bride by her groom following the consummation of their marriage. The Greeks and the Romans knew the aquamarine as the sailor's gem, ensuring the safe and prosperous passage across stormy seas. In Medieval times, the stone was thought to reawaken the love of married couples. It was also believed to render soldiers invincible.
AZURITE - Azurite paints made centuries ago have undergone the transformation much to the imagined horror of artists whose paintings of beautiful blue skies now have a most unusual green hue! Azurite is a metamorphic rock meaning that over time it changes form Azurite to Malachite and Chrysocolla. Thankfully for mineralogists and collectors, this transformation is one of the most aesthetically pleasing in the mineral kingdom.
BIOTITE MICA - Mica was known to ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations, as well as the Aztec civilization of the New World. The earliest use of mica has been found in cave paintings created during the Upper Paleolithic period (40,000 to 10,000 B.C.E.).
BLOODSTONE - The most widely known legend of this stone comes from the Middle Ages and claims the Blood Stone was formed at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, when the blood of his wounds fell onto the dark green earth and turned to stone. Another version declares the blood of Christ, which flowed from the fatal spear-thrust, fell upon a Green Jasper lying at the foot of the Cross, and from this sprang the Bloodstone variety of Jasper. In India, specimens of bloodstone with the finest colors are crushed, ground into a powder, and used as an aphrodisiac. Bloodstone was called stone of Babylon by Albert the Great and he referred to several magical properties, which were attributed to it from Late Antiquity. Pliny the Elder (1st century) mentioned first that the magicians used it as a stone of invisibility. Damigeron (4th century) wrote about its property to make rain, solar eclipse and its special virtue in divination and preserving health and youth.
CELESTITE – Celestite (strontium sulphate) is used in fireworks, because of its ability to burn with a bright red flame. The beautiful red color of most fireworks is caused by adding a strontium compound to the pyrotechnic mixture.
CARNELIAN - Ancient Warriors wore Carnelian around their neck for courage and physical power to conquer their enemies. In Egypt it was worn by master architects to show their rank of builder, and alchemists of the Middle Ages used it as a boiling stone to activate the energy of other Chalcedonies. As the first stone in the breastplate of the High Priest, it signified the blood of the martyrs and was once believed to prevent illness and the Plague. The ancient Egyptians called Carnelian the setting sun. Carnelian was recovered from Bronze Age Minoan layers at Knossos on Crete in a form that demonstrated its use in decorative arts; this use dates to approximately 1800 BC. Carnelian was used widely during Roman times to make engraved gems for signet or seal rings for imprinting a seal with wax on correspondence or other important documents. Hot wax does not stick to carnelian. Carnelian was used for Assyrian cylinder seals, Egyptian and Phoenician scarabs, and early Greek and Etruscan gems.
CHALCOPYRITE – Has high copper content and the Egyptians (as early as 3900 B.C.E.) were the first people to create bronze, a mixture of copper and tin. This marked the beginning of the Bronze Age.
CHRYSOCOLLA - Chrysocolla has been known to man since the beginning of recorded history. Using Chrysocolla was first recorded in 315 BC by a Greek philosopher and botanist named Theophrastus. Legend has it that eilat stone was originally mined in King Solomon's mines in Africa. In ancient Egypt, it was called the "wise stone" because it shielded and encouraged the mind during negotiations. Those who wore it generally came up with clever compromises and resolutions and it is said that Cleopatra wore chrysocolla jewelry everywhere she went. Nero was a Roman Emperor and well-known patron of the green faction of ancient Rome. These ancient factions were split into four colors: red, white, blue and green and were elite clubs that people felt loyalty to above all others. They would have many competitions, such as chariot races, and would do anything to ensure that their club would win and be proven superior. The green faction was the most dominant club, so when Nero was to take part in a race as a charioteer, he dusted the circus arena with ground green chrysocolla powder instead of using the customary sand.
CITRINE - From the earliest of times, citrine was called the "sun stone" and the gemstone was thought capable of holding sunlight and useful in the protection from snakebite. Its color was associated with gold and it became known as the merchant's stone. It was thought to improve communication and to attract wealth. To the Romans, it was the stone of Mercury, the messenger god, and it was used for carving intaglios.
COPPER - Copper was first used as early as 10,000 years ago. A copper pendant was found in 8700 B.C. in Northern Iraq. The early use of copper probably resulted from the natural occurrence of copper in native form. The Copper Age followed the Stone Age.
EMERALD - Emerald has been a source of fascination and reverence in many cultures for over six thousand years, sold in the markets of Babylon as early as 4,000 B.C. It was a stone worshipped by the Incas, believed by the Chaldeans to contain a goddess, and was highly honored in all major religions for its spiritual power and beauty. Emerald was considered a symbol of eternal life in ancient Egypt, a gift of Thoth, the god of wisdom, and was a favorite jewel of Queen Cleopatra.
GALENA - One of the oldest uses of galena (pure lead) was as kohl, which in Ancient Egypt, was applied around the eyes to reduce the glare of the desert sun and to repel flies, which were a potential source of disease. Galena was used as a solder used by the Romans for plumbing (the decline of the Roman empire is attributed to lead in the water supply!)
GYPSUM - In the early nineteenth century it was regarded as an almost miraculous fertilizer. American farmers were so anxious to acquire it that a lively smuggling trade with Nova Scotia evolved, resulting in the so-called "Plaster War" of 1812. Orbital pictures from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) indicate the existence of gypsum dunes in the northern polar region of Mars.
HEMATITE - The red chalk writing of this mineral was one of the earliest writing in the history of humans. The powdery mineral was first used 164,000 years ago by the Pinnacle-Point man possibly for social purposes. Hematite residues are also found in graves from 80,000 years ago. Near Rydno in Poland and Lovas in Hungary red chalk mines have been found that are from 5000 BC, belonging to the Linear Pottery culture at the Upper Rhine.
JADE - Chinese emperors were buried in suits made of the stone because they believed it would make them live on forever. The name has been used for both boys and girls in the United States. Jade was the 113th most popular name for girls born in the United States in 2007.
KYANITE - In ancient times, it was believed that when kyanite was suspended from a human hair, it could follow the Earth's magnetic force in the same manner as a compass needle. For this reason, many travelers took kyanite along with them when they went on long journeys and entered unknown territories.
LABRADORITE - According to an Eskimo legend, the Northern Lights were once imprisoned in the rocks along the coast of Labrador. It is told that a wandering Eskimo warrior found them and was able to free most of the lights with a mighty blow of his spear. Some of the lights were still trapped within the stone, and thus we have today the beautiful mineral known as labradorite.
LAPIS LAZULI - The funeral mask for the ancient Egyptian pharaoh 'King Tut' was discovered to have been decorated with lapis lazuli. In a grave from the Indus valley, the lapis ornaments found were dated as 9000 years old. Lapis powder was extensively used by Roman, Persian and Chinese women to paint their eyebrows. From the days of ancient Greece and Rome trough to the Renaissance, lapis was pulverized to make a durable pigment called ultramarine, which was used extensively to produce the intense blue of many of the world's most famous oil paintings.
LODESTONE (Magnetite) - Lodestone is one of only two minerals that is found naturally magnetized; the other, pyrrhotite, is only weakly magnetic. The discovery of magnets was first documented around 2500-3000 B.C. There are several reports about how this happened ~ one is that they were discovered in Asia Minor in a land called "Magnesia", where the earth was full of iron oxide which naturally attracted metals to it. The local citizens named that special substance "Magnetite". Another report is that there was a young Greek shepherd named Magnes who was climbing Mount Ida. He was wearing sandals with iron nails in them, as was common in his day, and he noticed that it was extremely difficult to lift his feet off the rocky mountainside.
MALACHITE - The first culture to make extensive use of malachite was that of Egypt, a country whose history with malachite goes back at least as far as 4,000 BC when it was heavily mined in the famous King Solomon's copper mines on the Red Sea. Reputed to have strong therapeutic properties, Egyptians believed that wearing malachite in bands around the head and arms protected the wearer from the frequent cholera epidemics that ravaged Egypt -- since slaves who mined malachite were often unaffected by the plagues. In the Middle Ages, parents attached Malachite to their childers's beds to ward off evil spirits and witches.
OBSIDIAN - Modern archaeologists have developed a relative dating system, obsidian hydration dating, to calculate the age of obsidian artifacts. In Ubaid in the 5th millennium BC, blades were manufactured from obsidian mined in today's Turkey. It was also polished to create early mirrors. Obsidian was also used in ritual circumcisions because of its deftness and sharpness.
PERIDOT - The ancient Romans called it 'evening emerald' since its color did not darken at night, but could still be appreciated by candlelight and the light of a campfire. It is a gem especially connected with ancient Egypt, and some historians believe that the famous emeralds of Cleopatra were actually peridot gems. Peridot was also brought back to Europe by the Crusaders and was often used to decorate medieval churches. In ancient beliefs, peridot was a gift of Mother Nature to celebrate the annual creation of a new world.
PETRIFIED WOOD - Native Americans had various beliefs about the origin of the petrified logs in what is now Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Natives of the Paiute tribe held that these giant petrifications were spent arrow shafts and spears dispatched by the Thunder God Shinauav and his enemies during a great battle. Members of the Navajo tribe believed they were the bones of the great giant monster Yeitso.
PYRITE - In ancient Roman times, this name was applied to several types of stone that would create sparks when struck against steel. Ancient Incas used Pyrite as mirrors.
QUARTZ - Quartz is the most common material identified as the mystical substance maban in Australian Aboriginal mythology. It is found regularly in passage tomb cemeteries in Europe in a burial context, such as Newgrange or Carrowmore in the Republic of Ireland. Quartz was also used in Prehistoric Ireland, as well as many other countries, for stone tools; both vein quartz and rock crystal were knapped as part of the lithic technology of the prehistoric peoples.
RHODOCHROSITE - The Incas believed that rhodochrosite is the blood of their former rulers, turned to stone, therefore it is sometimes called "Rosa del Inca" or "Inca Rose".
RUBY - Rubies have always been held in high esteem in Asian countries. They were used to ornament armor, scabbards, and harnesses of noblemen in India and China. Rubies were laid beneath the foundation of buildings to secure good fortune to the structure. Ancient Hindus believed that by making an offering of a ruby to Krishna, rebirth as an emperor was assured. Burmese warriors believed that rubies would make them invincible, and even inserted rubies under their skin for this purpose.
SULFUR – A sulfur ointment was used in ancient Egypt to treat granular eyelids. Sulfur was used for fumigation in preclassical Greece; this is mentioned in the Odyssey Pliny the Elder discusses sulfur in book 35 of his Natural History, saying that its best-known source is the island of Melos. He mentions its use for fumigation, medicine, and bleaching cloth. A natural form of sulfur was known in China since the 6th century BC and found in Hanzhong. By the 3rd century, the Chinese discovered that sulfur could be extracted from pyrite.