The pre-Columbian jade

At the beginning of the l6e century, Montezuma, the Aztec King, was pleased to learn that Cortez, the Spanish invader, was interested by gold, not jade. In fact, within pre-Columbian civilizations, in particular among the Aztec, the Maya and the Olmec, jade was the raw material of their more precious objects, and this in some cases for more than 3,000 years.

The origin of this jade, which is actually jadeite, remained a great mystery of archaeology until quite recently. It is only in 1957 that we discovered, in the Valley of Motagua in Guatemala, a deposit of jadeite. Since then, we have extracted stones in most of the tints of jadeite found in Burma (Myanmar). It seems that the Motagua valley would be the origin of all pre-Columbian jades.

It is fascinating to see how the Mesoamerican peoples have discovered the jade and like prehistoric civilizations of the East Asia, has raised it to the rank of liturgical object. They have, as several older societies, recognized the unique nature of the jade and developed the technique to work it.