Help Tracking Origin of Ancient Turquoise Stones

Hi all, this is my first post, I just joined today and I’ve already learned a ton, it’s a great forum!

As I posted in a reply to another thread, I collect very ancient beads and gemstones, and i’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel pretty extensively, so I’ve acquired some great pieces from all over the world. I am also a researcher focused on very ancient human history, mainly from about 50,000 years ago to the end of the Bronze Age (~1200BCE).

I am currently researching various ancient bead, gemstone and other “luxury goods” trade routes, and I’m trying to track ancient trade in various stones which, in principle, should be trackable, due to unquely endemic geology and conditions in their regions of origin. These include certain jaspers, opals, turquoises, for example.

So that’s a bit about me, I hope that was ok to share, and I apologize if it was a long wind-up.

On that note, I was hoping someone could help me identify the possible regions of origin of the turquoise in the attached pics. I won’t say (for now) where I got them, since it could unconsciously bias replies, but I can share pretty much everything else I know about them.

I did a lot of digging on line but I don’t know if it’s helped much, I don’t know turquoise very well and so I am not sure exactly how best to search.

The weights are as follows (left to right, in carats): 83, 76, 57, and 59. To be sure, I’m mainly interested in learning
the possible origins of the rough turquoise (if that’s possible to know - if not, please let know and share why, I’m going on the hypothesis that turquoise can be traced, maybe these cannot be). Any help would be much appreciated, thank you!


Hi Paul,

Welcome to the community! Turquoise is found world-wide with a few famous localities taking center-stage. Here are a few resources:

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Hi Paul, it’s impossible to determine the origin of rough turquoise from a photograph. For example, the rough lots below are all from the Kingman Mine in Western AZ
c
b
A

6
4
3
2

Here’s a link to an article on the GIA website which discusses the challenges of field gemology. I think it will be of great interest to you.

What Country Do My Diamonds and Other Gemstones Come From?

You can also contact Joe Dan Lowry who is one of the foremost experts on turquoise. Lowry’s family have been involved in the turquoise trade for generations, he’s authored books on turquoise, given countless lectures and opened the Turquoise Museum located in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

jacob@turquoisemuseum.com
info@turquoisemuseum.com

Cheers and best of luck with your research

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Thank you very much for the reply. I confess I do not know much about turquoise but I read on-line there are location-specific characteristics of some stones that are endemic (native) to just one or a couple locations, and I saw others who claimed to have identified origins of some stones by just looking at them, but I may have gotten that wrong. I guess to do so would require 1. certainty that some turquoise have only one point of origin, 2. certainty that the stone you have is that turquoise. That’s a lot of certainty and generally not certain of much, so I see that this is at best unlikely, but probably impossible. thanks for helping me understand that. One thing i noticed is that there are a ton of online resources about north amer turquoise but far less on stones from other parts of the planet. I found some stuff on “Egyptian” turquoise but you have to take any stone considered “Egyptian” with a grain of salt. That region was a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural region and what we now call Egypt was one part of it (a big part, no doubt), but fairly inconsequential until around 4500BC. very few stone are truly “egyptian”, unless the largely non-ethnically egyptian peoples of the southern red sea region are being referred to. a huge number and volume or gemstones were mined and traded through that region but it want until Roman times that it was considered part of egypt.

that’s probably a ramble, but my point is, i’ll give up on using morphology as a way to track turquoise for now and look into some of the other resources posted, thank you! The direct contacts with those experts is especially appreciated.

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I think that what you are looking into is fascinating… I hope that you can write a book about it…if you can identify where your stones came from as exactly as possible and verify how old they are please do consider writing a book on ancient trade routes and luxury goods…it would be a great work of scholarship. I am afraid that it’s going to be difficult and that you will need to bring your samples in to experts in the ancient middle east…you will need to consult more than gemologists, but also art historians, ancient historians and geologists specializing in the history of ancient copper mining. Egyptian turquoise was sourced from the Sinai copper mines. go to the reference provided below… good luck and keep us posted of your discoveries.

Sinai Peninsula Copper - Bir Nasib District, Serabit El …

[image]
Porter GeoConsultancy
https://portergeo.com.au › database › mineinfo › minei…
](PorterGeo Database - Ore Deposit Description)

In this region, mines of antiquity have exploited ‘oxide’ copper mineralisation and turquoise. The more notable of these are the copper deposits at and around …

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Paul,

I wouldn’t hang up the morphology hat, just yet. There can be subtle and sometimes unique traits to the turquoise material based on its origin. Mostly it is related to the host matrix material, but sometimes the grain of the turquoise itself, is a clue.

The Egyptians were known to trade for turquoise just like lapis and hematite. I remember seeing several bracelets on display at the Smithsonian that contained turquoise. Whether or not it was mined locally is still debatable. Since Afghanistan and Pakistan are known sources, it is very plausible the material could have come from there. Especially with the source mines for Lapis in same area.

Of course, @StevenH26783 just posted a fantastic example! :grin:

Thanks to @JCBellGG for posting the link to the Turquoise Museum in Albuquerque! Lived there for 22 years and never knew it existed! :smirk: Now that I am on the other side of the country… I will definitely make an effort to visit on my next trip back there.

Cheers!

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You’re very welcome Troy :blush:
I own Lowry’s two books on Turquoise, but have never been to his museum. I lived in Colorado for 7 years and didn’t know it existed either!

Sorry if redundant, I botched the last attempt to post…

Thank you very much for the encouraging reply. It continuously surprises me to leah how little we know about this subject, and the more I dig, the more I see that. I have indeed developed a pretty good network of researchers and specialists in many of the related fields but I have ways to go with others (including gemologists). Unfortunately I have not found historians to be ideal for much of this the historical narrative is largely based on the prevailing archeology paradigm, and due largely to recent paleo-genetic research (and to new tech and tools in archeology), that paradigm is rapidly evolving. Hopefully, that paradigm will broaden its scope. Interestingly, my thesis aligns closely that the emerging paleo-genetic record, and to the extent knowable, the historical linguistic record, but the field of archeology has not yet assembled enough of a material record to be of much help, and I have not many archeologist who have anything close to the expertise as many of you have.

Re. the Egyptian comment, I hope I put that well, it was a huge center in the gem trade through Roman times, and their may very well be important mining centers in the region of Egypt-proper, but what i’ve come to learn is that the specialization tended to be concentrated in certain groups, the largest of which were not “Egyptian”, per se. It’s complicated and I probably shouldn’t have made a less than thorough comment like that. I hope it’s ok.

It’s a big topic, and it’s hard to do it justice by telling just a part of the story, but I feel i’m making progress, sometime frustratingly so, but your note was super encouraging.

I am super happy to have found this and i’ve already learned a ton. Sorry about long note but I hope to learn much more and I really think we can learn so much more, much faster, when “opensource” like approaches are taken, tapping into groups like this. It’s invaluable and I’ll take whatever help I can get.e answers online. The locals in many of the regions I focus on have proven to be, by far, the best source of insight, regularly encyclopedic on their knowledge of stones and their history.

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I too lived in Albuquerque and will be going back there soon. I haven’t heard of the turquoise museum either. Turquoise is really hard to value… different colors, matrices, come from the same mine…

middle eastern turquoise also comes from Persia., in addition to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey… “turqois” is a French word for Turkish… Iranian turquoise is of high quality. Wherever there’s copper, there’s almost always some turquoise. The Sinai copper deposits have been the subject of intense archeological investigation, there’s a lot of publications on it… the scale of mining went industrial around the time of Solomon, although the deposits were worked for millenia. It’s possible to trace the origin of copper found in copper and bronze artifacts by using mass spect and analyzing copper isotope ratios…this technique potentially could trace the provenance of your stones, by the copper isotope ratios in the turquoise… However, mass spect is usually destructive… it involves preparing a speciment by grinding it up and treating it with acid…minimally destructive laser ablation mass spect can vaporize a small surface sample to run into the machine… The cost of doing a run is prohibitive…the last quote I got from a commercial lab was 2-6K per rock sample…these machines cost over a million and only big university geology departments have them…the cost of the machines and the cost of running them are similar to buying and running an MRI machine…doing something like this would be the last, rather than the first step… determination of age and geologic provenance would be the first… I don;t know if you can find someone who is enough of an expert to identify the type location of your stone just by visual inspection and without using at least some analytic techniques…as Troy had pointed out, stones from the same mine come in many different colors, matrices…Your best bet would be to assemble of team of collaborators at a university that is multidisciplinary… you would have to get geologists, geochemists, archeologists, ancient art historians, and a gemmologist interested in a collaborative long term project… If you can, your team would be able to publish a book, multiple papers and scholarly works… junior university faculty have to publish or perish…you could drum up some interest. getting cross departmental collaboration is the hard part… doing it own your own without support is impossible… I’ve attempted myself within my own subspecialty from which I am retired. I gave up for retirement…This kind of work can consume a lifetime… great for a PhD thesis… I don’t know how far you can or want to run with this… but I do encourage you to continue on with your research… whatever you come up with will have academic value, even as a pilot proposal.

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PS: forgot to mention that the matrix could be more important than the turquoise itself in determining provenance… I agree with that on the other post… Although Cyprus was a leading copper producer during the bronze age, I can’t find a quick reference to turquoise coming from there… It could be because of the geology…(another clue)… the Troodos copper deposits were oceanic crust obducted on shore. Oceanic crust is poor in phosphate…Sulfides without enough phosphate to form turquoise may have been the reason why vast amounts of turquoise were not associated with those copper mines… The Sinai copper deposits were sedimentary… phosphates would have been present. The other middle eastern sources in Turkey and Iran were igneous/hydrothermal… Afghan turquoise and lapis is metamorphic/hydrothermal… these latter sources would have phosphate.

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forgot to mention that electron microprobe is an accurate cheaper way to analyze matrix…

Thank you, there is a lot of great info in your replies.

I posted the turquoise as one example, but I have others that may be possible to trace. I am familiar with Iranian/Persian turquoise and it has been highly prized. Again, it is not a stone I know a lot about, so all this info has been helpful. There also appears to be sources somewhere along the the routes of the initial spread of Buddhism (likely earlier as well), around 300-200BC, specifically along the path from Tibet into Myanmar, an northeasterly toward China, as there are many examples of beautiful carved and uncarved stones in very early Buddhist or pre-Buddhist motives from that region. Of course the raw stones may have been imported, but the sheer abundance of these in those regions with those motifs implies (possibly) a more localized source.

Opals are another potentially insightful example. There are several types endemic (to the best of our current knowledge) to Australia (Lightning Ridge, Koroit Boulder, etc). that were cut/fashioned in very ancient times, at lear Upper Paleolithic, that were traded throughout what is now Papua and Indonesia to at least Southeast Asia. Other examples that are possibly traceable are many stones endemic to Madagascar and Mozambique, which were highly prized and widely traded, various ambers, jaspers, coral and pearls. It is clear, for example, that Mediterranean and Persian Gulf corals (which, being organic, can be dated and their regions can be identified) have been found in Tibet and Nepal (and other regions of the Himalaya highlands) dating to the first known human settlements in those regions. Similarly, Lapis seals and amulets from Afghanistan are known to have existed in the Mediterranean world from at least the early Bronze Age.

Things get really interesting when the Americas are considered. Oceanic gemstones and beads have been found in Olmek- Norte Chico/ Caral Supe Mesoamerica, and a large number of stones that appear to be endemic to the Dominican Republic can be found throughout the ancient world.

By way of textual documentation, many ancient Mesopotamia texts reference gemstones from very distant lands. But even a betyer example can be found in the Sri Vijaya maritime Buddhist Thalassocracy centered in Palembang, South Sumatra. These trading networks were extensive but usually dated to 400-700AD. Yet the stones and textual references tell a different story. The oldest known written text found in that region, the Kedukan Bukit Inscription, dates to roundly 300BC, and its translation describes the same networks dating to at least that time. Here’s a pic of the known routes:

Anyhow, I am happy to post stone examples I have collected if anyone is interested. I agree it’s an impossible task alone, and I have put in a great deal of effort to cultivate cross-field support. As I stated earlier, though, without a doubt the best sources of insights are with locals in places like Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Sri Lanka, Burma, etc. On the whole they have a very good grasp of these networks and their history, the hard part is triangulating those with specialist experts and testing of modern science.

You already know a whole lot… far more than I am even dimly aware of…gemstones and other valuable trade goods made their way far and wide. The middle east is a cross roads between Asia, Africa, and Europe…The Americas were not as isolated as once thought… Polynesians left genetic markers in a small population that inhabits the Panama/Columbia border area… far from Chile…Parrot feathers and sea shell jewelry were found at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico…a trade route linking the Anasazi culture with southern Mexico…Native American miners dug turquoise at Los Cerillos NM, 4 centuries before the Spanish arrived in the New World, extensive underground tunnels following veins have been excavated…the turquoise was disseminated throughout the Southwest into Mexico. The only missing piece was Mayan jade…the source was closely guarded and lost after the Spanish invasion… It wan’t rediscovered until a couple of decades ago when a US company used aerial geophysical survey methods to map out the low temperature, high pressure metamorphic belt in Guatemala… a foot search found the mother lode…I wanted to buy some that was offered by the company but I thought that the price was too high… the “vein” was exhausted and the price of Mayan jade jumped… since then, it’s stabilized since artisan miners started searching river beds and canyon streams for jade boulders… similar to what happened in Myamar before the hard rock source was found and later nationalized by the military dictatorship…I hope to travel there next year to buy some at the source. I really do hope that you will put your findings together and publish. getting all of the specialists to collaborate even within a university setting is a difficult project… people have to get interested and on board… getting diverse interests together is like herding cats… everyone is working on their pet research and projects… a lot is already known about the geology and occurrance of precious stone and metal deposits across Europe, Asia and the Middle East and what their geological setting is and how these deposits formed… to get geochemists interested enough to colloborate you would have to pique their interest. Most of them are into petrology, but without their analytic tools it would be difficult to prove provenance… In non organic materials, there are some methods of dating more recent events, although difficult…measurement of cosmogenic beryllium, which is a short lived isotope is one way, another way is optically stimulate quartz grain fluorescence which measures how long an object has been buried away from sunlight…as long as there are quartz grains unexposed to sunlight that can be tested. Mass spect will eventually become necessary to separate out metal and other element isotopic ratios that are unique and or limited to provenance…the measurement of associated elements and their isotopic ratios also can cinch it down to a single mine. This technique cannot measure age, except for geologic time…half lives of elements measured are far too long, but I could be wrong on that also…it’s worth a try approaching your nearest university and talking to people from multiple disciplines in order to see if you can interest anyone within a single department.

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I hope that you got my messages… if you think they should be shared then feel free to post them publicly. What you are talking about goes way beyond the scope of this present discusssion, which is why I messaged and not posted… as I have said, I won’t be in town soon… but just let me know if you did recieve my messages, thanks, steven H.

Turquoise, A world Story of a Fascinating Gemstone by Joe D Lowry. This is probably the best book out there and written by the owner of the Turquoise Museum in Albuquerque NM. He does discuss mines and history around the world. Turquoise is one of the first mined gemstones since prehistoric times. Also, you may be interested in taking your stones to the Turquoise United Symposium in Albuquerque (August time frame?). There will be expert folks from around the world. I hope they have it this year. Joe Dan is the man to reach out to. Call the museum and speak to his son.

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another thing to note is that persian/middle eastern cut stones tend to be high domed relative to what you see in the USA. Also, europeans tend to prefer stones with little or no matrix…not meant to be hard fact, just overall preference. Some material sold as “Egyptian” turquoise (at least some current sources) also seem to have a red-brown oxidation rind over a very pure sky blue turq.

I should say middle eastern folks, not Europeans.

Thank you very much, I will get the book asap!

Do you happen to have pic of examples of these? I have some that I believe
fit that bill (thank you for the detail, it’s very helpful), but I am not sure I have found examples on line that meet that description.