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“Turquoise in the History of the Southwest”

Southwest Crossroads Spotlight

Zuni Shell Pendant with Turquoise Inlay“Zuni Shell Pendant with Turquoise Inlay,” Unidentified Zuni (Artist)

Throughout history, peoples around the world have revered turquoise for its beauty. Turquoise comes from the earth but is the color of the sky. Indians of the American Southwest associate the semi-precious stone with early tribal stories and prayer. The Zunis tell of the Ant People who took bits of sky in the form of turquoise with them on a journey to the upper world. That is why, they say, we have turquoise today.

Archaeologists have found turquoise ornaments in Chaco Canyon's Pueblo Bonito and at Hawikuh, an early pueblo in the Zuni Valley. These discoveries point to the early mining of turquoise and its use as a trade item in the form of beads and mosaic jewelry. In fact, archaeologists have unearthed over 65,000 turquoise items at Pueblo Bonito. The sheer number tells us that the people who lived in Chaco Canyon probably manufactured turquoise jewelry and traded it to their neighbors in large quantities between CE 1050 and 1250. Other turquoise finds along the Rio Grande, in the Four Corners area, and in Mexico suggest that turquoise circulated throughout Mesoamerica.