Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jade -- A Precious Stone of the Maya

Author’s Note: Two kinds of jade exist, nephrite and jadeite. It is the second kind of jade, jadeite that the ancient Mesoamericans, including the Maya, had access to. Jadeite is more rare than nephrite and is harder.


What They Made
Ancient Mesoamericans everywhere -- from the Olmecs to the Aztecs -- valued jade, and the Mayans especially enjoyed the bright green variety. To the ancient Maya, jade represented things like maize (corn), the wind, breath and the soul. They made jade into belts, nose decorations, mosaic masks, tooth inserts, beads and ear spools (a kind of earring that looks like a spool). They also worked jade into celts -- a kind of axe-head. As for decoration, designs representing flowers were popular for jade jewelry.

How They Worked It
But, until 800 AD -- near the end of the Classic Period -- metalworking was not a part of Mesoamerican life, so what did the Maya do to make their jade ornaments? The answer: To change a piece of jade’s size, they cut it with a “saw” made from plant fiber cord, using stone grit and water for the saw's "teeth". When jade craftsman wanted to cut details into a piece of jade, he used a piece of bone or wood, using grit and water again. For a hole, he used the same detail-cutting tool as a drill, twisting the tip in the desired spot on both sides of the piece, also using grit and water. Once done carving, the craftsman polished the piece with something such as another stone, beeswax or with more plant fiber. All in all this was a time consuming process.

Where It Came From
And where did the ancient Maya get their jade? This was a question no one officially had the answer to until the 1954. Now people know that the ancient Mayans got jade from at least one source in what is now Guatemala: the Motagua Valley. Having rediscovered this source, a tourist trade based on jade has popped up, though it is centered around two areas, Teculután and Estancia de La Virgen.

The American Museum of Natural History: ‘Olmec Blue’ and Formative jade sources: new discoveries in Guatemala

Princeton University Art Museum: Jade of the Americas


"The Ancient Maya"; Robert. J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

3 comments:

  1. who actually used jade in maya

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