Among the Native Americans of the Southwest, Turquoise has historically been used for religious and ornamental purposes. For the Navajos it once passed as currency. Apaches liked to attach a small piece to the bow so that their arrows would fly true. The Zunis of western New Mexico incorporated Turquoise into nearly all aspects of life, from the sacred to the economic. Turquoise has been a part of Zuni religious practice for hundreds of years. Ground Turquoise is often set out as a part of an offering and the stone also adorns ceremonial objects. In Zuni tradition, the rich blue color of the stone symbolizes “the supreme life-giving power,” and fragments of turquoise are used for the eyes of fetishes and co-mingled with sacred corn meal and presented as an offering to masked deities. Most tribes believe that Turquoise brings good fortune and ensures a long and healthful life, hence its age old popularity as a personal ornament.
In New Mexico, Native Americans for centuries extracted Turquoise from the Cerrillos hills a few miles south of Santa Fe. This was the site of the most extensive prehistoric mining operation in America. As an article of trade, Cerrillos Turquoise found its way into the southeastern United States, northward into Canada and as far south as Mexico and the Mayan homeland. At prehistoric Pueblo Bonito in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, archaeologists have recovered some 50,000 pieces of Turquoise, more than half of it in the form of beads.
Turquoise occurs almost exclusively in arid lands. In North America it is most abundant in dry, copper-rich regions of the Southwestern United States (Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico) where it has been mined aggressively since prehistoric times. Turquoise is found at high elevations and is almost never deeper than 100 feet below the surface of the earth. In the Southwest, the darker shades of blue and green Turquoise are considered the highest grades. Generally, the deeper and richer the color, the harder the nugget and the more easily it will polish to a high luster, an important determinant of gem quality. In other cultures where Turquoise is mined (such as the Middle East) pale shades of Turquoise command top price.
“Matrix” is highly prized in Southwestern Turquoise. It might be red, white, black, brown, golden or even lavender and is part of the mother rock that surrounds the Turquoise mineral deposit. There are three basic types of matrix. The Spiderweb matrix is most prized and resembles highly detailed netting that envelopes the mineral, inside and out. Nevada’s Number 8 Mine, a one-time gold and copper mining operation, has produced one of the most prized spiderweb Turquoise deposits in the world. Web matrix has a net-like pattern that is less precisely defined than spiderweb, yet its strands are still generally connected. Matrix Turquoise is the least valuable and most prevalent of the three with random and only occasionally connected veins of minerals running through it.
(From “The Allure of Turquoise”, New Mexico Magazine)