Turquoise in Indian Jewelry

An article by Lee Anderson

Turquoise has been native to jewelry in the Southwest for over 2000 years. Then, as now, the stone was deeply appreciated and revered. No doubt, the prehistoric Indians and the ancestors of our current Native Americans ascribed a multitude of properties to this stone.

Pima of Southern Arizona

According to the Pima, turquoise was a talisman of good fortune and strength to renounce ailments. However, if you lost a turquoise you would be afflicted by a physical ailment treatable only by a Medicine Man.

Zuni

The Zuni believed the blue turquoise was male and of the sky, and that green was female and of the earth. Most Zuni fetishes were either made of turquoise or had turquoise properties such as eyes, mouths, or attachments of turquoise, to give it more power. Turquoise was powerful and important to most early ceremonials.

Rio Grande Pueblos

Most Rio Grande Pueblos believed that turquoise color was stolen from the sky and preserved in stone. Their most precious idols were adorned with turquoise. They also use turquoise for good fortune

Hopi

The Hopi have many traditions regarding turquoise. They, like their Rio Grande Pueblo and Zuni contemporaries, adorn their most important fetishes with turquoise to enhance their powers. In one legend, turquoise is the excrement of lizards, an animal that is greatly respected for his above- and below-world connections. The Hopi believed that turquoise can hold back floods, a common problem in the desert Southwest.

Apache

The Apache felt attaching turquoise to a gun or a bow will cause the weapon to shoot straight. It brought rain and could be found at the end of all rainbows. It was key to the strength of their medicine men.

Navajo

Wearing turquoise brings good fortune and insures favor with the Yeis, who mediate between man and the supernatural. When thrown into a river with the proper ceremonies, turquoise will help bring rain. Turquoise is offered to the Wind Spirit to appease him; the Navajo myth is that when the wind is blowing, it is searching for turquoise. The Navajo carve fetishes out of turquoise for increased powers and fortunes. Turquoise is the sacred stone and color of the south and the upper world. The “Sacred Mountain of the South,” Mt. Taylor near Grants, New Mexico, is made from a mixture of turquoise and earth. The mountains are inhabited by Turquoise Girl. Suffice to say, turquoise plays many roles in of their healing ceremonies and sand paintings.

The Southwestern Indians use an abundance of turquoise in their jewelry. Some of the turquoise is of exceptional quality and some is not even turquoise. Most range between these extremes.

References / Recommended Readings

John Adair, The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths, University of Oklahoma Press, 1944.

Margery Bedinger, Indian Silver, Navajo and Pueblo Jewelers, University of New Mexico Press, 1973.

M.G. Brown, Blue Gold, The Turquoise Story, Main Street Press, Anaheim, CA, 1975

Larry Frank, Indian Silver Jewelry of the Southwest, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Westchester, Pennsylvania, 1990.

The International Turquoise Annuals, vol. I and II, 1975 and 1976 (only two published) Impart Pub, Reno, NV. Note in vol. I the article on pages 31–55 by D. Allen Penick, “Turquoise, the Mineral that’s an Accident.”

Carl Rosnek and Joseph Stacy, Skystone and Silver, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1976.

Joseph E. Poque, Ph.D, The Turquoise, A report to the National Academy of Science, vol. XII, Second and Third Memoir, 1915. Reprinted in 1974 by Rio Grande Press, Inc., Glorieta, NM. (This reprint includes a foreword and details on Southwestern turquoise mines by Rex Arrowsmith and an excellent reference list. )

Stuart A. Northrop, Turquoise and Spanish Mines in New Mexico, University of New Mexico, Press, 1975.

Stuart A. Northrop, David L. Newman, David H. Snow, Turquoise, reprinted by General Printing and Paper Co., Topeka, KS. A reprint from El Palacio, vol. 79, No. 1, 1973, Museum of New Mexico.

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