Thursday, May 3, 2012

The fascinating history of emeralds

Emeralds have been known and treasured since prehistoric times. The ancient Egyptians began mining emeralds from a deposit in the Eastern Desert near the Red Sea during the 12 th Dynasty (1991 - 1778 BC), a region which much later became known in legend as Cleopatra’s mines (Cleopatra 69 BC - 30 BC).

The name "emerald" has been used only since the 16th century. Apparently it is derived from a Persian word, which was translated into the Greek as "smaragdus", from which is derived the modern name "emerald". In olden times the name was applied to any green colored mineral but not always the emerald as we know it today. We have reliable information from ancient Egyptian jewelry recovered by archeologists from the tombs of the Pharaohs, and similar excavations in the Middle and Far East, which show that emeralds were highly prized and widely traded throughout the region.

The ancient Egyptian emerald source became lost for many centuries but remained a legend as Cleopatra’s Mines, attracting explorers. The workings were rediscovered by French traveler F. Cailliard in 1818, on locating the main group of workings near Gebel Sikait which is about 161 km north-east of the Aswan Dam site in the Zabara Mountains, about 24 kms from the Red Sea coastline. He recruited some miners to open up the workings and retrieved 4.5 kilo of poor quality emeralds not suitable for faceting. The mining was unsuccessful, but archeology was enhanced. No mining is done there today.

Foto: Colombian rough emeralds used in jewelry at a market in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.