Prehistoric Gemstones

Prehistoric Gemstones

Gems have been loved throughout history. These stones were used as beautiful decorative ornaments, religious symbols, amulets and good-luck charms. In ancient times, they were used for their metaphysical properties as well as their medicinal values, and also used to display wealth, status and power.

Zircon is the oldest gemstone ever discovered; it is also the oldest item on the planet! To be precise, it is 4.4 billion years old! And the oldest extraterrestrial gemstone found on planet Earth is peridot.

From as far back as 4000 BC, the Egyptians were making gemstone jewelery using Lapis Lazuli and Amethyst. Jade is the earliest gemstone mentioned in Chinese historical texts around 3600 BC and Indians were the first people to mine and use diamonds around 300 BC.

Between 1600 BC and 500 BC, the Greek and the Roman Empire used sapphires, garnets and pearls as amulets.

Since olden times, gemstones such as Lapis Lazuli, Turquoise, Carnelian, Jasper, Quartz, Malachite, Coral and Amber were used in different ancient civilisations. These gemstones are still being revered today. Bones and shells were also used for decoration ornaments and healing purposes but these pertain to the organic materials known today as Organic Gemstones: these include the pearl, ammolite, coral, jet, amber, etcetera.

Note that most of these stones used since prehistoric times are generally softer on Mohs hardness scale as they allowed lapidaries to cut, drill and carve images in amulets and religious symbolism which was extremely important in ancient times.

Turquoise has been considered sacred by many ancient civilizations around the world especially the Egyptians. They were used in powdered form as eyeshadow and was often carved into the shape of a scarab beetle and used as a protective talisman. They were also used as inlays in many ceremonial masks.

Egyptians called turquoise mefkat, which meant “joy” and “delight.” Color of gemstones was important because it was believed that color had religious and spiritual significance. Turquoise was sacred because its blue symbolised heaven.

Turquoise was also revered by the Mesoamericans, Tibetans, Persians and American Indians such as Navahos and Zuni.

Besides Turquoise, one of the most treasured gemstones of ancient Egypt was Lapis Lazuli. It is widely believed that Cleopatra (69 - 30 BC) used powdered Lapis Lazuli as an eye adornment. It was a sacred stone that symbolised life, the heavens and the gods. It had been carved as sacred amulets in the form of a scarab beetle, a symbol of protection, renewal and resurrection. The most famous use for Lapis Lazuli in the Ancient Egyptian civilization is in the death mask of King Tutankhamun.

From Neolithic times the most treasured gem in China is jade. It has been used for carvings, ceremonial weapons and ritual objects as well as jewelry. Jade symbolises immortality, purity and could ward off spirits. It was believed that jade could preserve a body from decaying after death. In 111 BC, a suit made of 1,000 small squares of jade was excavated in a royal's tomb. Jade was known as the "essence of heaven and earth" and was the emperors' stone.

Amber is a fossilized resin that was secreted by ancient plants. The ancient people thought that amber was the solidified sun rays. It was used throughout the ancient world for jewelery and decorative objects and was believed to contain mysterious qualities such as protecting the wearer, warding off evil and curing diseases.

Amber is a very soft stone. Therefore, it can be easily cut and carved into beads and jewelery items.

Ancient Egyptians used coral pieces in tombs as protection against evil spirits in the afterworld as it was believed to contain a drop of divine blood. The Romans hung branches of coral around the necks of their children to protect them from danger. Tibetans used coral to cure blood-related diseases. In Mesoamerica it was also believed to protect children from the evil eye.

Coral is an organic gemstone and formed through a biological process. It usually comes in a lovely red color and it was considered sacred by ancient people of Tibet, China, India, Egypt and in the Americas.

Other gemstones used by our ancestors were obsidian, flint, quartz, jet (lignite), soapstone and meerschaum.