The Magic of Jewels and Charms
The Curious Lore of Precious Stones
By George Fedrick Kunz
On the Religious use of Various Stones Pages 294 - 312
A splendid ecclesiastical ornament is described in the inventory of the royal treasures in the Chateau de
Fontainebleau made in 1560, on the accession of Charles IX. This was of gold and composed of a crucifix with the figures of the Virgin Mary and St. John. It was "enriched with 41 sapphires, 3 pointed diamonds and 12
balas-rubies, "which served to mark the nails in the cross. The weight of the gold was 25 marks 5 ounces, and the
value of the entire object, gold and precious stones, is given as 2720 ecus, or about $6120. The intrinsic value of
the gold alone would be about $4240.21 21
The most impressive of the ecclesiastical ornaments in the Spanish churches was the custodia, or monstrance, in
which the Holy Eucharist was borne through the streets on Corpus Christi day; indeed, only at this time was the
custodia publicly shown. It was in fact a large shrine, generally affecting the form of a church tower. The most
ancient example now in existence is in the Cathedral of Gerona. It is of gold, is 1.85 m. (over 6 feet) high, and
weighs nearly 66 pounds. This work, in which the architectural style is an ornate Gothic, was completed in 1458 by
the goldsmith Francisco de Asis Artau. One of the finest specimens, however, was executed by Enrique d'Arphe
for Charles V and is in the Cathedral of Toledo. This custodia measures no less than nine feet in height and is
three feet wide. Here also the form is that of a Gothic tower; the cross at the apex was made by the goldsmith
Lainez, and is adorned with 86 pearls and 4 large emeralds.
The shrine itself contains 795 marks' weight of silver (about 600 pounds), the gold in its composition weighing
21 Inventory of royal treasures in the Chateau de Fontainebleau, Bibl. Nat. MS. franc. 4732 ; fol. 3 of transcript in author's library from the collection of M. E. Molinier.
57 marks, or about 38 pounds. The Venetian Navagero estimated its worth to be 30,000 ducats.22
The wife of Marshal Junot, the celebrated Duchesse d'Abrantes, seeks to exonerate her husband and to refute
the many charges of spoliation brought against him during
and after the French occupation of Spain in 1808 and the succeeding years. For her, Marshal Lannes was a much
worse offender, and she asserts that after the siege of Saragossa in 1809, Lannes secured possession of the
immensely valuable treasures of the church of Nuestra Senora del Pilar, treasures valued at nearly $1,000,000.
On his arrival in Paris, Lannes informed Napoleon that he had brought with him from Spain "a few colored stones
of little value, ''and was graciously told that he could keep them for himself. The finest jewel of this collection
contained 1300 diamonds, nine of which were of great magnitude and value; the jewel was heart-shaped, and had
in the centre a dove, typifying the Holy Spirit, with wings extended. It had been given to the church by Dona
Barbara de Portugal, Queen of Spain.23
About the year 1630 there could be seen in Paris a crucifix a foot and a half high, all of a single piece of yellow
amber; on either side were the figures of the Virgin Mary and of St. John respectively, each carved in most
excellent style. The writer who gives this information, a lineal descendant of Lodowyk van Berghem, commonly regarded as the first diamond-cutter, tells from hearsay evidence of a marvellous emerald which six hundred years before his time, or about 1060, hung suspended from the top of the nave of the Cathedral of Mainz. It was "as
large as half-a-melon," and was of exceeding brilliance.24
22 Carlos Justi, "Los Arfe"; in Espafia Moderna, vol. 299, November, 1913,
pp. 83, 87.
23 MSmoires de Madame la Duchesse d'Abrantes, Paris, n. d., vol. 7, p. 447.
24 Robert de Berquen, " Les Merveilles des Indes," Paris, 1661, pp. 87, 32.
The writer of a Bohemian poem on the legend of St. Catherine's betrothal to Christ, written about 1355, appears
to have been, in one part, inspired by the glowing adornment of the Wenceslaus chapel in the cathedral of St. Veit.
The poet gives an enthusiastic description of the gorgeous ornamentation of the mystic, imaginary temple in which
the betrothal takes place. The pavement is of aquamarine beryl, the walls are studded with diamonds in golden
settings, the framework of the windows is alternately of emerald or of sapphire, and the window-panes are not of
stained glass, but of precious or semi-precious stones. Some of these are not ill fitted for this use, the transparency
of rubies, amethysts, spinels, jacinths, garnets, and similar stones, admitting quite sufficient light; but others
mentioned here, such as turquoises, chalcedonys and jaspers, would permit but a dim ray of light to traverse their opaque or semi-opaque substance. It has been conjectured by some that the poet drew his material from the
account of the temple of the Holy Grail in the old German legend, probably through a Bohemian version; but as he
omits in his enumeration twelve of the stones given in the Grail legend, and adds a number of others, diamond, turquoise, chalcedony, garnet, etc., this literary source is not fully satisfactory. Rather might it be believed that the splendid decoration of the Wenceslaus chapel and of the Karlstein Castle suggested the vision wrought out by the Bohemian poet, especially as among the stones he mentions which are not in the Grail legend, we have the garnet,
so eminently a product of Bohemia.24
A peculiar and very interesting facetted diamond of 6 3/22 carats displays alternate black and white facets and
presents the appearance of a clearly defined Greek cross in
24 Dr. B. Jezek, "Aua dem Reiche der Edelsteinen," Prag, 1913, pp. 128-131.
black outline when viewed by transmitted light. The original crystal, which came from Brazil and weighed 10 1/2
carats, was an octahedron and was of a jet black hue. The expectation was that the result of its cutting would be
the production of a black brilliant, but when one of the points of the octahedron had been removed to form the
table, it became evident that the black tint was only superficial, the body of the crystal being white. This
peculiarity was then utilized by leaving some of the natural black faces of the crystal. This diamond was found to
be of excessive hardness, rendering the task of cutting it an exceedingly arduous one. It is now in the possession
of one of the Royal Household of Siam.25
Among the Buddhist legends current in India in the seventh century a.d. is one referring to the vases offered by the "four kings of heaven" to the Buddha. They first brought four gold vases, but the Buddha declared that one who
had renbunced the world could not use such costly vases.
Silver vessels were then substituted, and were also refused, as were successively vases made of rock-crystal, lapis lazuli, camelian, amber, ruby and other precious materials.
Finally, four stone vases were proffered. These were of violet color and transparent, but the fact that they were
not of precious material rendered them acceptable to the Buddha.26
The images of Buddha usually bear as adornment a small gem. This is most frequently a moonstone, but
occasionally a ruby or some other gem will be used. The reason for this religious use of gems must not be sought
only in the idea that precious and costly objects are most fitting as decora-
25 See G. F. Kunz, "Five Brazilian Diamonds," Science, vol. iii, p. 649, No. 69, May 30, 1884.
26 Heuen Taang, "Memoires sur lea contrfiea occidentales," French trans, by Stanislas Julien, Paris, 1857,
vol. i, p. 482.
tions of the sacred images, but it also implies a certain belief in the magic or quasi-sacred character of the gem
The Saddharma Pundarika, one of the nine most sacred books of the Buddhists, composed perhaps as early as the
beginning of our era, gives the following description of a celestial stupra, a sort of shrine containing a celestial
It [the stupra] consisted of seven precious substances, vh., gold, silver, lapis lazuli, musaragalva, emerald, red
coral, and Karketana stone.
This stupra of precious substances once formed, the gods of paradise strewed and covered it with mandarava and
great mandara flowers. And from that stupra of precious substances there issued the voice: "Excellent, excellent,
Lord Sakyamuni! thou hast well expounded the Dharmapayarya of the Lotus of the True Law. So is it, Lord; so is
Some of the most valuable temple treasures in the Island of Ceylon were preserved in a pagoda near the frontiers
of the realm of Saula. The report of the gold and jewels accumulated here excited the avidity of the Portuguese,
then in control of a considerable part of the island, and finally an energetic attempt was made to gain possession
Although the existence of the pagoda was well attested, the Portuguese were ignorant of its exact location in the
tract of forest land wherein it stood. The expeditionary force consisted of 150 Portuguese and 2000 Lascars. On
nearing the forest they placed themselves under the guidance of a native captured in the neighborhood. He led
them through the woodland, traversing it hither and thither, but no pagoda appeared. Suddenly the native exhibited
signs of madness, which were at first believed to be simulated, but were later regarded as genuine, on which he was made away with and another native substituted, however, with the same result.
One after another five natives showed the same symptoms
27 "The Saddharma-Pundartka, or the Lotus of the True Law,'' trans, by H. Kern, Oxford, 1884, p. 228.
and were successively put to death, and at last the Portuguese were compelled to abandon this unsuccessful quest.
We have here either a remarkable example of fidelity to the temple, or else an instance of the psychic influence of
the terror inspired by the risk of violating it. Undoubtedly the priests represented the result as due to supernatural
influence, and perhaps really felt justified in doing so.28
An official account of the embassy of the Cinghalese monarch Kirti Sri to Siam, in 1750, offers a description of the magnificent pagoda erected over the Sacred Footprint of Buddha, at Swarna Panchatha Maha Pahath. The free
use of sapphires and rubies is quite natural, when we consider that some of the finest specimens of these stones
are still found in this region: 29
Above the sacred footstep and made of solid gold was a pagoda supported on suitable pillars, forming a shrine. At
the four comers were placed four golden sesat, and from above hung four bunches of precious stones like
bunches of ripe areca-nuts in size. On the edge of the roof hung ropes of pearls, and on the point of the spire was
set a sapphire the size of a lime fruit. Within and overshadowing the footprint like a canopy, there hung from the
middle of the spire a full-blown lotus of gold, in the middle of which was set a ruby of similar size. Chariots, ships, elephants, and horses with their riders, all made of gold, and of a suitable size, were placed on a golden support
above the silver pavement. This was hung on wires of gold, to which were hung ornaments set with pearls the size
of the nelli fruit, as well as other jewelled ornaments, rings and chains. By some skilful device all this could be
moved along the silver pavement.
Recent excavations made by Dr. J. H. Marshall in the Punjab, India, on the site of the ancient city of Taxila,
captured by Alexander the Great during his Indian campaign, have brought to light many valuable Buddhist
28 See J. Ribeyro, "Hlstoire de I'lsle de Ceylon," French trans, of Abbe le Grand, Amsterdam, 1701, pp. 184, 185.
29 An account of King Kirti Sri's embassy to Siam in 1672, Saka ( 1750 a.d. ), trans, from Sinhalese by P. B. Pieris. Extract from Jour. Roy. As. Soc, vol. xviii. No. 54 (1903).
ing from about 2000 years ago. One of the most striking of these is a relic casket taken from a tope of the type
called dagoha, this name designating that class of those Buddhist structures designed especially for the reception
This relic casket is of steatite, and contained a golden box within which was a fragment of bone, presumably
regarded as a relic of the Buddha; around it were many pearls as well as engraved camelians and also a number
of other precious stones.
A carved sapphire, once in the collection of the Marquess of Northampton, shows a representation of the Hindu
divinity, Siva. It is of Indian workmanship and the stone measures 1 1/2 inches in length, 1 1/2 inches in width and
3/4 inch in thickness.30
One of the writers most familiar with Indian gem-lore recognizes that while the rich and educated Hindus of our
day wear diamonds and other gems chiefly as ornaments, in ancient times these brilliant objects were more largely
employed in India to enrich the images of the gods, thus rendering the idols more impressive and causing them to
be worshipped with more intense fervor. In ancient India gemmed ornaments were believed to bring to the wearer
"respect, fame, longevity, wealth, happiness, strength, and fruition"; a list of benefits long enough to satisfy the
most exigent. However, as though this were not enough, we are further assured that these gems "ward off evil
astral influences, make the body healthy, remove misery and ill-fortune, and wash away sin.'' 31
The oldest jewel offered to a shrine by an Indian potentate, of which we have certain knowledge, was a magnificent
pendant containing a number of precious stones, the gift of
30 Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London, vol. xvii, p. 168, illustration.
31 Surindro Mohun Tagore, "Mani Mala," Pt. II, Calcutta, 1881, pp. 573, 601, 703.
Sundara Pandiyan, at a date prior to 1310 a.d. Another magnificent gift was a gorgeous jewelled turban adorned
with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls, bestowed in 1623 by Trimal Nayakkan.32 These gifts or dedications
show the prevailing tendency to propitiate the higher powers and insure success in royal enterprises.
The English ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe, sent to the court of Shah Jehangir by King James I, saw the Shah on
the day of his great birthday festival when he was weighed against a great variety of objects, jewels, gold, silver,
stuffs of gold and silver, silk, butter, rice, fruits, etc. All these things, heaped up on the scale balancing the one in
which stood the Shah, were distributed as imperial gifts after the conclusion of the ceremony. Sir Thomas Roe
declares that on this occasion (he missed seeing the actual weighing) the monarch was adorned with a great array
of jewels, and he adds: "I must confess I never saw at one time such unspeakable wealth," a testimony of
considerable value, for the English Court in the time of James I was one by no means poor in jewels, that sovereign having a great fondness for them. After the ceremony of weighing had been completed, Jehangir enjoyed the
spectacle of a procession of twelve troupes of his choicest elephants, each troupe led by a "lord elephant of
exceptional stature. ''The finest of these had all the plates on his head and breast set with rubies and emer-
alds, and all the elephants as they neared the Shah saluted
him with their trunks.33
In Persia the pink and red coral was believied to have acquired its beautiful color after removal from the water,
and the odor of the material was said to be a trustworthy
31 " Hendley, " Indian Jeweirery," London, 1909, p. 106; see Major H. H. Cole,
32 "Preservation of the Natural Monuments of India," PI. 52.
33 "Journal of Sir Thomas Roe, Ambassador of James I to Shah Jehangir, Mogul Emperor of Hindoostan"; in
Kerr's Collection of Voyages and Travels, Edinburgh, 1824, vol. ix, p. 288.
means of discriminating between genuine and imitation coral; genuine coral had the smell of sea-water. The
Chinese and the Hindus prized this substance very highly, because among them it was used to adorn the images
of the gods.34
The perforated jade disk called ts'ang pi is still used as the symbol of the deity Heaven (T'ien) in the temple of
that divinity at Peking. By a regulation of Emperor K 'ien-lung, the proper dimensions of this ceremonial disk
were rigidly established; the diameter of the disk proper was set at 6.1 inches, and its thickness at 7/10 of an inch;
the perforation was to have a diameter of 4/10 of an inch. While the quality of the jade to be employed is not
especially determined, the name ts'ang implies jade of a bluish shade. The veined type of stone is regarded as
peculiarly adapted for this purpose. 35
We are apt to regard Tibet as the land least accessible to modem influence of any kind, and that least in touch
with any aspect of European civilization. It seems, therefore, not a little strange that at the chief altar of the Royal Chapel in the Dalai Lama's palace on Potala Hill, Lhasa, the elaborate tse-boum (incense vase or vessel), used by
the Buddhist priests in their services, is a product of modern Parisian art, having been made in Paris about ten
years ago. The vessel proper, which is carved from several exceptionally large pieces of coral, rests upon a flat,
silver-gilt base, ornamented with two dragons, and is crowned with an oval framework of lapis lazuli leaves; upon
this framework is a coral statuette of Amitabha, the "Lord of Boundless Light," revered as the emanation of Adi-Buddha, supported by a lotus flower of
34 " Von Hammer, " Ausziige aus dem persischen Werke, Buch der Edelsteine, von Mohammed Ben Manssur";
in Fundgruben des Orients, vol. vi, p. 138; Wien, 1818.
35 Berthold Laufer, "Jade, a Study in Chinese Archaeology and Religion," Chicago, 1912, p. 157.
white chalcedony. At the apex of the leafy oval rests a representation in white chalcedony of a crescent moon,
above is a sun in yellow stone from which springs a coral flame, symbolizing the radiance of wisdom (nada).
Although the Dalai Lama was anxious to avail himself of the aid of French art for the embellishment of his altar,
he took due precautions that the religious character of the vessel should be properly conceived and maintained,
and therefore sent one of his high-priests to Europe to choose the artists best fitted for the execution of the vessel,
and this priest took the pains to make a special trip to Leghorn in order to select the coral appropriate for the
sacred utensil. As will be noted, this material, so greatly prized by the Tibetans, is that most prominent in this
temple incense-vase. The dragons attached to the silver-gilt platter have been placed there to honor the Chinese,
and are so affixed that they can be removed when no Chinese representatives are present at the ceremonies. In
the older tse-boum, to take the place of which this Paris product was executed, the red-tinted ivory was used where
coral appears in the newer vessel. The employment of this color is due to the fact that it is the sacred color of
Within the sacred precincts of the temple of Cho Kang, in Tibet, is a splendid, life-size image of the Buddha formed
of solid gold. The priests teach that it is of supernatural origin, and ascribe its execution to the creative energy of
Visvakarma, a personification of the formative energy in the cosmos. The gold in this image is, however, not
absolutely pure, but is alloyed with silver, copper, zinc and iron, the choice of these four metal alloys being dictated
by the significance of the five metals in union as symbols of the world. The precious-stone adornment of this
36 J. Deniker, "The Dalai Lama's new Tse-boum from Paris," Century Magazine, vol. Ixvii, No. 4, Feb., 1904,
pp. 582-583, with illustration.
idol consists of magnificent diamonds, rubies, emeralds and indranila or Indian sapphires. Pearl, turquoise and
coral necklaces are twined around the figure's neck and crossed over its breast; on its head rests a golden coronet
with a setting of turquoises, and rising from the rim of this coronet are five upright leaves within each of which is a
small golden image of the Buddha; from one of these hangs as a pendant a remarkably fine, large and flawless
piece of turquoise, measuring six inches in length and four inches in width. All these splendors lavished upon the
image of the great apostle of the simple life show but a poor comprehension of the deep meanings and tendencies
of his early career.
Treating of the religious associations of turquoise among the Tibetans, Dr. Berthold Laufer writes: 37
Turquoises, usually in connection with gold, belong to the most ancient propitiatory offerings to the gods and
demons; in the enumeration, gold always precedes turquois as the more valuable gift. They also figure among the presents bestowed ou saints and Lamas by kings and wealthy laymen.
The thrones on which kings and Lamas take their place are usually described as adorned with gold and turquoises,
and they wear cloaks ornamented with these stones. It may be inferred from traditions and epic stories that in
ancient times arrowheads were made not only of common flint, but also occasionally of turquois to which a high
value was attached. A powerful saint, by touching the bow and arrow of a blacksmith, transforms the bow into gold,
and the arrowhead into turquois.
In the native languages of Mexico and Central America the name chalchihuitl most frequently designates jadeite,
but it appears sometimes to have been applied to other stones of a green or greenish-blue color, such as the so
called amazon-stone from the region of the Amazon River, and even occasionally to the turquoise. Thus the
talismanic value of the chalchihuitl seems to have depended rather upon its hue
37 Berthold Laufer, "Notes on Turquois in the East," Field Museum of Natural History, Anthropological Series,
vol. xiii. No. 1, Chicago, July, 1913, p. 11.
and its rarity, titan upon its mineralogical character; indeed, among primitive peoples, stones of the same, or
closely similar color, although of different composition, often bore the same name, and were conceived to have the
same virtues whether talismanic or therapeutic. "Writing of the rich gifts sent by Montezuma to Cortes upon the
latter's arrival at San Juan de Ulua (1519), Bernal Diaz de Castillo mentions38 ''four chalchiuites, a kind of green
stone of great value, and much esteemed by them [the Indians], more highly, indeed, than we esteem the emerald.
They are of a green color."
And he proceeds to state that each one of these stones was said to be worth a great weight of gold.
The statue of the earth-goddess Couatlicue, found in the village of Cozcatlan, Mexico, and now preserved in the
National Museum of Mexico, shows, inserted in the cheek, a disk of jadeite. 39 Green seems thus to have been
the color sacred to this goddess, which may remind us of the attribution of the green emerald to Venus. Indeed,
green as the color of foliage and plants must naturally have suggested itself as eminently appropriate for an earth-goddess, just as its significance as a symbol of life and generation connected it with the Goddess of Love.
The story of the emeralds brought from the New "World by Heman Cortes must have been quite familiar to
sixteenth century writers, for we find Brantome applying some details of this story to "a beautiful and
incomparable pearl'' said to have been brought from Mexico by Cortes on his return to Spain. This he later
allowed to slip from his fingers into the sea while showing it to a friend on board
38 " Verdadera historia de los sueeaos de la conquista de la Nueva Espafla," Bib. de Aut. Esp., vol. xxvi, Madrid,
1866, p. 35.
39 Dr. Eduard Seler, " Similarity of Design of Some Teotihuacan Frescoes and Certain Mexican Pottery Objects,"
in Proceedings of the International Congress of Americanists, XYIII Session, London, 1912; Pt. II, London, 1913,
p. 200. 20
the ship that was bearing him toward Algiers; it was lost in the sea, and in the words of Brantome "vanished from
the sight of mankind, unworthy to possess such a miracle of nature. ''The loss of this pearl is looked upon by the
French writer as a punishment for the "inscription" Cortes had caused to be placed upon it: Inter natos mulierum
non surrexit major;40 this refers to John the Baptist and was, as "we have seen, engraved upon one of the famous emeralds of Cortes. Brantome believes that its application to a simple product of nature was sacrilegious and the
cause of the object's loss; he also sees in this loss an omen of the death of the Emperor Charles which occurred
shortly afterward, and he draws attention to the fact that the "Africans" called their kings "precious stones." 41
The Aztec art-workers of the period immediately ante-dating the Spanish Conquest had attained a high order of
skill in the difficult work of inlaying carefully cut and shaped bits of precious material so as to produce some form
or design of symbolic or religious meaning. In judging the artistic merit of such work, we must always remember
that the Aztec inlayers were only provided with rude arid primitive tools and implements for the execution of their
task, and extraordinary patience and application must have been necessary to complete some of the objects that
have been preserved for us. This art seems only to have been cultivated in ancient Mexico and Central America,
and perhaps Peru also; of the Mexican work some twenty-five examples have been saved. The Spaniards, shortly
after their first landing, were given, an opportunity to judge of the quality of this Aztec inlaying, for among, the gifts
sent by Montezuma to Cortes, were five such objects, a mask with incrusta-
40 " Among them that are born of woman there hath, not arisen a greater." Matt, xi, 11.
41 "Ceuvres du Seigneur de Brantome," Londres, 1779, vol. v, pp. 35, 36.
tions of turquoise, so disposed as to figure two intertwined serpents; a crozier, also with turquoise mosaic and
ending in a serpent's head; a pair of large ear-rings of serpentine form decorated with the chalchihuitl stone
(perhaps nephrite or jadeite); a mitre of ocelot skin, surmounted by a large chalchihuitl, and also decorated with turquoise, mosaic, and a staff of office with similar inlays. A serpent-mask answering to the description of one of Montezuma's gifts is now in the British Museum and is in a fairly good state of preservation, although
unfortunately the two serpent-heads have been lost. Evidently this mask was used in connection with the worship
of Quetzalcoatl, the serpent-god, an incarnation of which deity the poor Aztecs at first believed Cortes to be.41
Surpassing this mask in a certain strange and weird interest, and equalling it in artistic workmanship, is another
most remarkable Aztec ceremonial mask, also in the British Museum Collection. The foundation of this is the front
part of a human skull, and its outer surface has been covered with an incrustation of turquoise and jet mosaic in five alternate bands, the upper, middle and lower ones being of jet, while the two intermediate ones are of shaped pieces
of turquoise; part of the nose has been removed and the space covered over by tablets of pink shell; protruding
eyeballs are figured by convex disks of polished iron pyrites with a bordering of white shell; a number of the teeth
have been broken out.
Straps attached at the temples rendered it possible to bind this mask to the face of an idol, or for a priest of high
rank to wear it on solemn ceremonial occasions.
Some three hundred yards or more from the great temple pyramid at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico, at the termina-
41 W H. Holmes, "Masterpieces of Aboriginal American Art," II, Mosaic Work- reprint from Art and Archaeology
vol. i, no. 3, Nov., 1914; see pp. 96, 97, and Figs- 2 and 3, pp. 92, 93.
tion of the Sacred Way traversed in times of tribulation, of pestilence or famine, by processions of priests
conveying sacrifices to be offered to the offended divinities, was the Sacred Well. Into this the priests would throw
the ornaments and trinkets dedicated to the gods as peace-offerings.
But such inanimate objects were regarded as insufficient, and even animal sacrifices were deemed to be inadequate,
and hence it often happened that prisoners of war and fair maidens were cast, into the deep, still waters of the
Many fragments of the carved stone ornaments have been recovered from the depths of this Sacred Well, and even
in their present imperfect state, they testify to a considerable development of the lapidarian art among the ancient Mayas, and a high degree of artistic skill in the fashioning of such objects of adornment. Undoubtedly those used in
this way as sacred offerings were considered to be amulets and therefore to be the more acceptable in the sight of
That lapis lazuli was as much favored for religious use by the aborigines of the New World as it was in ancient
Egypt and in other parts of the Old World, is shown by the recent discovery of twenty-eight carefully formed
cylindrical beads of lapis lazuli among some very ancient deposits in the island of La Plata, Ecuador. From the
general character of these deposits it is evident that they did not belong to permanent dwellers on the island, and
there is every reason to believe that they were left by visitors from the mainland, who came to the island for the performance of certain sacred rites and ceremonies.43
The ancient Mexicans held the turquoise in high esteem,
42 Edward H. Thompson, "The Home of a Forgotten Race"; in The National Geographic Magazine, vol. xxv. No.
6, pp. 585-G08; June, 1914.
43 Fewkes, "Archajological Investigations on the Island of La Plata, Ecuador," Field Columbian Museum Pub. No.
56; Anthrop. Ser., vol. ii, No. 5, Chicago, 1901, pp. 266 sqq.
and that Los Cerrillos and other mines in Arizona and New Mexico were extensively worked prior to the discovery
of America is proved by fragments of Aztec pottery-vases; by drinking, eating, and cooking utensils; by stone hammers, wedges, mauls, and idols which have been discovered in the debris found in many different localities.
While Major Hyde was exploring this neighborhood in 1880, he was visited by several Pueblo Indians from San
Domingo, who stated that the turquoise he was taking from the old mine was sacred, and must not go into the hands
of those whose Saviour was not a Montezuma, and these Indians offered, at the same time, to purchase all that
might come from the mine in the future.
About ten miles from Tempe, Arizona, in ruins designated as Los Muertos, there was found enclosed in asbestos,
in a decorated Zuni jar, a sea-shell coated with black pitch, in which were incrusted turquoise and garnets, in the
form of a toad, the sacred emblem of the Zuni. Incrusted clam shells, representing toads, may be seen in the
Brunswick Collection, the Christie Collection in the British Museum, and in the Pitorini Museum, Rome.
At the annual Fiesta which is attended by the San Felipe, the Navajo, the Isleta, the Acoma, the Jicorrilla, Apache
and other Indians at the Pueblo of Santo Domingo, a place situated about three miles west by south of Wallace
Station on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, a carved wooden image of the saint, about four feet in
height, and said to date from the time of the conquest in 1692, is carried in procession through the principal streets
to a small tent made of the finest Navajo blankets, where it is placed on an improvised altar. Here various offerings
are made. Among them strings of turquoise beads, both round and flat, of the choicest color, are suspended from
the ears of the figure, and from a string which encircles its neck. On the centre of
the breast is one of the curious turquoise-encrusted marine clam-shells similar to the one found by Lieutenant F. H.
Gushing in the excavations near Tempe, Arizona. The writer saw a fine example of this ornamental object
suspended from the neck of the Virgin of Santo Domingo, at the Annual Fiesta, August 4, 1890. With the exception
of a black band of obsidian running across the centre, the entire exterior of the shell is covered with a sort of
miniature pavement of little squares of turquoise which are cemented to it with a black shellac-like substance
obtained from "the grease-wood" plant common in New Mexico.44
It has been suggested that the types of ornamentation used by the aborigines of Central America may become
fashionable at the time of the opening of the Panama Canal.
In jewelry the crayfish model, as shown in a gold-plated ornament discovered in the Chiriqui district of Panama,
offers a striking and peculiar form which might win favor; a curious frog pattern could also be used. If the local
usage in ancient times is to be considered, the emerald and other green stones would be given the preference for decoration, as stones of this color were the most in favor among the primitive inhabitants of Central America
because it symbolized the verdure of field and forest, and hence youth and vigor. When set in gold these stones
gained in symbolic value, for gold, having the color of the sun, was regarded as typical of force, courage, and vitality.
The mystic lake of Guatavita, high up on the Andean plateau of Colombia, iSouth America, was the chief holy place
of the native Indians of this locality hundreds of years ago, at a time when gold and emeralds were plentiful among
them, luxuries unknown to their impoverished descendants of our day. Legend had taught them to regard this lake as
44 George F. Kunz, "Gems and Precious Stones of North America," New York, 1890, pp. 61, 62.
the abiding place of a powerful divinity or demon, whose good will must be secured at any price if dire disease were
to be held aloof from the people. Four other sacred lakes on the plateau, Guasca, Siecha, Teusaca, and Ubaque,
shared in a lesser degree with the principal one in the attribution of mysterious power. As early as 1534 word was brought to Sebastian de Belalcazar, founder of Quito, that in the course of the religious ceremonies held by the
Indians at the Lake of Guatavita, they were wont to cast into its waters immense quantities of gold dust, emeralds
and other precious stones. It was also related that at these semi-annual festivals the Caciques and the principal
chiefs, bearing valuable gifts of gold-dust and emeralds, were paddled out in canoes (or on rafts) to the exact
middle of the lake, this point being determined by the intersection of two ropes stretching from four temples
erected at four equidistant points on its banks. Arrived at this spot the offerings were cast into the lake, and the Cacique of Guatavita, whose naked body had been coated with an adhesive clay, over which gold-dust was sprinkled
in profusion, sprang into the water, and after washing off the gold-dust, swam to the shore. This resplendent living golden figure strongly appealed to the Spaniards ' imagination, and the name they bestowed upon the Cacique, El Dorado ("The Golden," or "Gilded"), is used to our day as a designation of a region or a spot exceptionally rich
in gold. At the moment the "Golden Cacique" made his plunge into the lake, the assembled people scattered along
its banks turned their backs toward the water, shouted loudly, and threw their propitiatory offerings over their
shoulders into the lake.
Attempts have often been made to secure the treasures by drawing off the waters of the lake, but only with very
partial success so far. The first serious effort is said to have been made by Antonio de Sepulveda, a merchant of
Santa Fe, in United States of Colombia, who obtained a Spanish concession. In or about 1823 we have record of
another unsuccessful venture on the part of Jose Ignacio Paris, in an account of Colombia written in 1824 by
Captain Charles Stuart Cochrane, of the Eoyal Navy, who aided Paris in his efforts. The report that at the time of
the Spanish Conquest, the Cacique of Guatavita caused gold-dust constituting the burdens of fifty men to be cast
into the lake, greatly contributed to the zeal of the treasure-seekers in the vicinity. One of the early attempts at
least resulted in the recovery of so much treasure that the Government's 3 per cent, share is said to have amounted
In none of these essays, however, was the lake really and effectually drained off, and that of Paris in 1823 or 1824
failed in the same way, because of inadequate capital. He had succeeded in persuading sixteen shareholders to club
together, each one contributing $500 to a common fund, but after not only this $8,000, but $12,000 more supplied by
himself had been expended, there still remained 33 feet of water in the lake.
Recently an English company has recognized that the treasure must be sought at or even beneath the true bottom,
as this existed at the time of the Spanish Conquest, and thus at levels considerably lower than those of the bottom
at the present time. The project is, after 30 feet of the present bottom has been removed, to set up a steam shovel
and sink down 40 or 50 feet in search of the gold-dust, golden ornaments and emeralds believed to exist here.