Many beads are made from gemstone material. This section of All About Beads includes a brief history of gemstones, ancient gemstone lore and gemstone healing. Additional information for individual gemstones is on the gemstone list page.
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Much of the gemstone history comes from archiological discoveries, and ancient writings. They are often found in burial sites where they were meant to protect and accompany their owner into the next life. Evidence of the first jewelry dates from 25,000 – 12,000 B.C. The first types were pieces of bones, teeth, and shells that could be hung on the body as primitive necklaces.
As stronger tools were developed, carving became possible and jewelry materials were made into shapes. Soft, opaque stones were the first gemstone beads. By 2,500 B.C. carnelian, lapis lazuli, and rock crystal were in use.
Colorful gemstones were first found on the earth’s surface. There is evidence of gemstone mining of lapis lazuli in Afghanistan as early as 5,000 B.C. In 3,000 B.C there was mining of turquoise in the Sinai peninsula and of emeralds in Egypt. Amber was traded in the areas around the Baltic Sea. In North and South America turquoise was mined.
Gemstones have always been symbols of wealth, power, and authority. Kings put them in crowns, shields, swords, and jewelry. Adornment was not the only purpose for wearing them. Gemstones were thought to have many powers for healing and influencing future well being. They were given mystical powers and believed to possess life, old age, disease, and death. They even could become part of the body and soul of the wearer.
Specific beliefs about healing differed according to historical time period, geographical location, and religion. Probably the earliest use was by medicine men in ancient tribes. The early Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians all believed that colored stones had healing properties. The color that the disease caused in the body determined the color of stone used. They could also influence the health of a specific part of the body and could protect it. Red stones were associated with blood, green with eyes, etc. Remedies included wearing the stone, pressing it against a wound, holding it in the mouth, steeping it in wine to be drunk, or grinding it into powder to be taken by mouth.
In the first century B.C. the Roman writer Pliny gave a description of the medical importance of gemstones. In the 12th century A.D. Hildegard, abbess of a convent in Germany, wrote a book of remedies. Later as transportation and trading became more common, merchants gave every possible value to each stone with much overlapping. There was at that time no way of differentiating minerals of similar colors. The same name was given to many gemstones of the same color. As a result, historical information is confusing.
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For more detailed information about individual gemstones, look on the Gemstone List page.