Posted by: marjbicknelljohnson | March 3, 2012

The Lost Jade Mines of the Maya

For a hundred years, archeologists searched for jade mines in Central America and Mexico, sources of the jade artifacts favored by Maya kings. Jade comes in green, of course, but white, yellow, orange, blue and gray as well; the Olmecs, a people preceding the Maya, liked blue. Jade, the stone of kings, belonged to Maya royalty and was valued more highly than gold, but since the time of the conquistadores, there have been no Maya kings. When anthropologists interviewed Maya elders in remote areas and asked about the location of jade mines, no one was talking.

Jade, harder than steel and tougher than any other mineral, is difficult to work, but a tool made of jade is virtually indestructible. Drop it or hammer it, without even a chip. Used as an axe, it holds its edge no matter what you hit with it. Jade’s tough, non-crystalline nature makes mining for jade by tunneling into a mountain impossible.

By contrast, gold often occurs as veins in quartz rock. While quartz is harder than jade, its crystalline structure makes it easy to break apart with a pick. Miners can use a pick and a shovel combined with explosives to extend the tunnel; the broken ore-bearing quartz can be crushed, and the gold can be melted out. The second way to find gold is as placer deposits in riverbeds. Heavy winter storms wash the gold from outcroppings and the gold drops to the bottom of the river, to be collected by miners by panning.

The only known sources for jade are rocks and boulders found in rivers. In fact, in Burma, workers find the jade in the murky water by feeling it with bare feet. In recent years, jade has been found in Guatemala.



  1. […] Astronomy JournalThe Lost Jade Mines of the Maya […]

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