Monday, 28 October 2013

Beyond El Dorado

For centuries Europeans were dazzled by the legend of a lost city of gold in South America. The truth behind this myth is even more fascinating. El Dorado – literally “the golden one” – actually refers to the ritual that took place at Lake Guatavita, near modern Bogotá.
The British Museum has created an exhibit featuring 200 artefacts from Bogota’s Museum of Gold. This exhibition looks at the reality behind the stories that excited the European imagination from the 16th century onwards, telling of a lake into which a ruler entirely covered in gold — the El Dorado or Golden One — made offerings of gold and emeralds.
Laguna de Guatavita is located in the municipality of Sesquilé, in the Cundinamarca Department of Colombia, 35 miles north-east of Bogotá.

Laguna de Guatavita was one of the sacred lakes of the Muisca, and a ritual conducted there is thought to be the basis for the legend of El Dorado. The lake is where the Muisca celebrated a ritual in which the Zipa (named "El Dorado" by the Conquistadores) was covered in gold dust, then venturing out into the water on a ceremonial raft made of rushes, he dived into the waters washing off the gold.
Afterward, trinkets, jewelry, and other precious offerings were thrown into the waters by worshipers.
Conquistadores Lázaro Fonte and Hernán Perez de Quesada attempted to drain the lake in 1545 using a "bucket chain" of labourers. After 3 months, the water level had been reduced by 3 metres, and only a small amount of gold was recovered.

In 1580 Antonio de Sepúlveda had a notch cut deep into the rim of the lake, which managed to reduce the water level by 20 metres, before collapsing and killing many of the labourers. Various golden ornaments, jewellery and armour were found. Sepúlveda died a poor man, and is buried at the church in the small town of Guatavita.

In 1898 the lake was successfully drained by means of a tunnel that emerged in the centre. The water was eventually drained to a depth of about 4 feet of mud and slime. This made it impossible to explore, and when the mud had dried in the sun, it set like concrete. A haul of only £500 was found, and subsequently auctioned at Sothebys of London.

The Colombian government has disallowed any more draining attempts.
Pre-Columbian Ecuador included indigenous cultures that developed for thousands of years before the ascent of the Incan Empire.
There are major archaeological sites in the coastal provinces of Manabí and Esmeraldas and in the middle Andean highland provinces of Tungurahua and Chimborazo. The archaeological evidence has established that Ecuador was inhabited for at least 4,500 years before the rise of the Inca.
The invasion of the Inca in the 15th century was bloody. Once over, the Incas developed an extensive administration and began the colonization of the region.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Stones of the Bible II

Chrysoprase is a translucent, bright apple or grassy green variety of chalcedony. The green color comes from nickle. It is the most valuable variety of chalcedony. Chrysoprase has been discovered in archaeological digs in ancient Egypt. A necklace which included chrysoprase beads was found on a mummy dating back to 1500 BC.

The most famous deposits of ancient chrysoprase came from Silesia.
Coral is a limestone formation of calcium carbonate produced by the skeletons of millions of tiny marine animals (polyps). Since it is of animal origin it is not technically a mineral. Gem quality coral or precious coral is only found in a few places in the world, one being the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea which produces some of the very finest. It grows in bush-like clumps of branches about a foot high and must be harvested while still living to preserve the color. If the polyps die before a branch reaches the surface, the coral turns dark and loses its value. Coral has been harvested from the earliest times and was highly prized by many civilizations throughout history.
Diamonds are pure, elemental carbon. Hardest of all gemstones, diamonds have the highest melting point of any substance (3,820 degrees Kelvin), is an excellent heat conductor, and has very low reactivity to chemicals. The English word “diamond” comes from the Greek word adamas meaning “the invincible.” Diamonds were not identified until the first century, and then they were valued as a tool for carving other stones.

Pliny the Elder describes diamond crystals from India around 77 AD.
Emeralds are a variety of beryl. Emeralds were well known to biblical lands. One of the earliest known source of emerald were mines located near the Red Sea in Egypt.

There is evidence that these mines were in operation as early as 1600 B.C. Later they became known as Cleopatra’s Mines, as she was quite fond of emeralds and was reported to wear them to enhance her beauty. Emeralds engraved with her likeness were given as gifts to her guests.
Garnet is a brittle, hard, glassy, mineral silicate. Though the word “garnet” is not found in any of the translations of the Bible, garnets were a common stone in biblical times.

The garnet has been found as early as the Bronze Age, dating back to 3100 Egyptian jewelry. Garnets have been closely associated with blood due to their colour and have very often been mistaken for rubies throughout history. (Rubies came into use around 400 B.C. with the Roman Empire)
Jasper is an opaque variety of chalcedony (quartz). It is most commonly red due to the presence of iron, but can also be found in yellow, brown and green. ”Jasper” comes from the Greek word iaspis which is a derivation of “to polish”.

One of characteristics of jasper is that it is able to take a high polish. It was used in ancient times as mantles, pillars, vases, and other interior decorations. Pliny the Elder lived and wrote around the same time that the book of Revelation was written, and describes iaspis as “being green and often transparent” which is of interest since today we consider jasper to be opaque.
Lapis Lazuli is an ultramarine-blue stone consisting largely of lazurite and speckled with yellow pyrite. Lapis was one of the most sought after and prized stones in the ancient world. It was used for jewelry, ornamentation, seals, and amulets. Egyptian blue paint was made from finely ground lapis. The stone has been found in many archaeological digs of ancient civilizations, including King Tut’s tomb.

Mines in Afghanistan have been producing gem lapis lazuli for nearly 5000 years and are still the worlds largest producer of the material. It is commonly agreed that lapis lazuli is actually the stone meant for the term “sapphire” in the bible. Sapphires were not known before the Roman empire and were initially thought to be jacinth.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Stones of the Bible I

Agates are a form of chalcedony (a fine-grained variety of quartz) that are banded or lined in a variety of patterns of colored layers. Colors range from white to dull yellow, red, brown, orange, blue, black and gray. “Agate” comes from the Greek word, achates, which is the name of the river in Sicily where agate was mined in abundance as early as 3000 BC.

Agates were highly prized among ancient civilizations. Large amounts of agate have been found in archaeological digs of Sumer, dating back to 3500 BC. Theophrastus (372-287 BC) notes that agate is a “marvelously beautiful stone” and was usually sold at high prices.
Amber is fossilized resin. It ranges in color from golden yellow to orange-brown. Ancient Greeks called amber "electrum." The Elder Pliny (23-79 AD) described amber's magnetic attraction, how that when rubbed it would become electrically charged and attract such things as straw, hair, dry leaves and feathers. This is where we get the word electricity. Amber is one of the oldest gemstones, having been found in archaeological digs of tombs dating to the Stone Age. The most valued amber (even today) is that which contains an inclusion of an insect.
Amethyst is a variety of quartz that is best know for it's rich, violet-purple hue. The color can vary in intensity from a pale, almost pinkish (mauve) color to a dark purplish violet. It is thought that the color of the stone comes from small amounts of iron in the quartz. The Greek name for the stone, amethustos (from which we get “amethyst”), literally means “not drunken” and it was believed that the gem guarded one against intoxication. Beautifully carved and engraved amethyst goblets, vases, charms and miniatures have been found in excavations.
Aquamarine is a light blue or bluish-green variety of beryl. Beryl is a silicate of beryllium and aluminum, occurs in hexagonal, prismatic crystals and is very hard as a mineral. Aquamarine was the most available variety of beryl during Biblical times, while the emerald (also a beryl) was more rare.
Carnelian is a translucent, hard, fine-grained variety of orangish red quartz that has often been used for ring stones and wax seals.

Carnelian has been frequently discovered in excavations of the ancient tombs of royalty. A string of expertly carved carnelian beads was found in Egypt dating back to 3100 BC.
Chalcedony is a cryptocrystalline (having crystals so small they cannot even be seen with a microscope) variety of quartz. It has a waxy luster and can be semi-transparent to translucent. There are many varieties of chalcedony, but most of them are known under different names and are distinguished by their color.

In Biblical times, chalcedony was used extensively in the carving of seals, signet rings, beads, bowls, goblets, glasses, and other household objects.