Turquoise Trade In The Western Hemisphere

The Trade of Turquoise in the Western Hemisphere

For over twenty five years I have discussed and written about my theory that turquoise trade in the

Western Hemisphere is regional. I have spoken at symposiums, written papers and books that have included different aspects of why turquoise trade is regional. Thankfully, over the last ten years I have found a little more reception to my studies from the academia world. Some archaeologists have even used parts of my theory to help develop their own studies. I still believe that the true history of trade in the Western Hemisphere needs to be restudied and rewritten in more aspects than just turquoise.

I have always appreciated all the different people who have helped me through the years. The study of

turquoise takes everyone! It is amazing how many people or institutions owned a mine site, an artifact, a story, specific information or even ideas about the past. Sometimes it is difficult to not offend someone or an institution when you use their information or their artifacts in conclusions that disagree with their conclusions in their own studies, their books or their turquoise related businesses. Anyone who knows me knows that I think turquoise is bigger than any one person’s knowledge and bigger than science. I have made my fair share of mistakes in my studies but continue to learn. Please enjoy this blog. This blog is so long that I included some pictures to keep you entertained.

The study of human behavior in social, cultural and linguistic situations is sometimes the most important

tool when studying past cultures, written documents and books about turquoise. In life, we as humans can arrive at different conclusions using the same information. We can ignore information that does not fit our agenda, beliefs, values or ideas. Many times we are predetermined to think about turquoise in certain ways. Where and who we get our turquoise information is important but not always correct or complete. Our initial influences are powerful factors in how we think. Some of us look at turquoise scientifically; others look at turquoise culturally, while others just like the color turquoise as an accent in jewelry. There are so many ways that we can all enjoy turquoise.

The following information shows how past information in interviews, books, artifacts and scientific information can all be used to create a bigger study about turquoise and turquoise trade in the Western Hemisphere. I will also show how exaggerated stories or misinformation is continually quoted by the scientists.


How is the Information Gathered?

To understand the information available for the research of turquoise we must understand that information and the collection of information involves people. We are all a little passionate and colorful when we share what we know or heard about turquoise. The following discussion is to show how I came to question some of the documents, books and past information about turquoise. I have been asking if the following general statements are true and researching what influence these statements, books and assumptions have had on today’s accepted history of turquoise trade in the Western Hemisphere.

Why was the Cerrillos mining area established as the only logical location for all turquoise artifacts discovered in the western hemisphere?

                ∙The Spanish conquerors located Santa Fe as a capitol.

                ∙Friar Marcos de Niza wrote about great turquoise ornamentation and value.

                ∙The Santa Fe Trail ends in Santa Fe.

                ∙The Hyde Expedition documented the Cerrillos area.

                ∙George Kunz understood and wrote about the value of the Cerrillos turquoise.

∙The United States became the center of university classes, influence and perspective from the white European perspective all over this hemisphere.

                ∙Joseph Pogue wrote his fabulous book Turquois, in 1915.

No other turquoise mine is written about with as much veracity and continual romance as the Cerrillos mining areas. As the world continues to discover more turquoise sources and artifacts around the western hemisphere;  certain archaeologists and researchers continue to quote the cookie cut past written information with themselves having limited or no source turquoise knowledge? This adds to the confusion about turquoise.

Directions traveled, destinations written about, romance, final locations and people all influenced how the Cerrillos area turquoise mines became synonymous with turquoise trade in the Western Hemisphere. How would we determine if the information and conclusions are correct that we hear and read? How influential was the printing press, culture and tourism in the information that is accepted.

I have a Few More

Why did the Mesoamerican cultures travel thousands of miles to get turquoise at what is now Cerrillos?∙Traveling from Mexico City, Mexico to Santa Fe, New Mexico is 2,343km (1455.873 miles) using a direct modern road route.

∙Where did the Mesoamerican cultures get their jade, spiny oyster and mother of pearl. Spiny Oyster comes from the Gulf of California.

∙Did the Mesoamerican cultures already have the interest and ability to mine jade and other rocks?

∙How primitive were the people that crossed the Bering Land Bridge? Do humans forget information? If the Land Bridge is the source of migration 15,000 years ago. Why is there no Bronze Age until Nazca culture in the South? Why did the people in the Northern part of the Western Hemisphere not develop as other cultures around the world? Did their brains freeze from the cold crossing? Why did the cultures in what is now North America not develop metallurgy?

∙ Why is the Europeans value system of blue turquoise now accepted in Native America? Most ancient southwestern artifacts are green, green blue or blue green.

∙What is the original definition of the word chalchihuitl? Did the Nahuatl language differentiate between jade and turquoise/green or blue?


What if the Spanish or the easterners had come from a different direction? (North, West or South) (Anasazi Park, Utah; Stone Hammer mines, California; Paquime, Mexico; Swarts Ruin, New Mexico; Snaketown, Arizona,and many other locations.

∙Do we comprehend what we read? The Hyde expedition refers to a one-hundred year old pine trees and lichen covered rocks on the top of and/or in the bottom of the dumps of the Mount Chalchihuitl area. (1857 A.D. -100 years =1757 A.D.) Lichen grow 1 to 2 mm per year. Evidence of stone tools can be right next to metal tools when a stone wall collapses.

∙Do we believe in science? Turquoise is a water-based mineral. It does not do well with heat. Building a fire along a wall of turquoise and then throwing water on the heated wall does not encourage any of the turquoise to be usable when you are finished using this old wives’ tale.

∙Who were Friar Marcos de Niza, George Kunz, and James McNulty as personalities and what was their interest in turquoise?

∙How many papers have been presented about turquoise identification (fingerprinting) and trade that have proven to be false? Thankfully, this continual misinformation has thankfully helped build tourism in New Mexico.

What we do Know?

  1. There is enough technology, modern knowledge and transportation to study turquoise.
  2. The study of turquoise will take everyone working together.
  3. There have been many mistakes made in developing information about turquoise. Every time I make a presentation or write, I learn, add information and correct other information.
  4. The following discussion points will show some issues in turquoise writings, books and research that has influenced a few “conclusions” through the years.
  5. Friar Marcos de Niza, George Kunz and James McNulty gave out a lot of information that I believe was not scientific or correct.
  6. The Cerrillos area is most people’s starting point in the Western Hemisphere to write about turquoise.

Even The British Museum!

British Museum, 2006

Published a book by Colin McEwan and others concerning a new scientific study of their museum’s nine Mesoamerican artifacts.

Not one Mexican mine site was studied or mentioned. In the modern era (2006) How can any study be scientific; if the science they are using is wrong and multiple known mine sources in Mexico are not part of a study about Mexican sourced artifacts?

In Pogue’s book published in 1915: Within the Introduction it states, “No large deposits of turquoise have been found in Mexico or Central America that would supply the quantity needed for the many items that have been found, or which must still lie buried.”

There is plenty of turquoise mine sources in what is now the countries of Mexico and Chile.

Source Knowledge

Most people who write books or have information about turquoise only know a sliver of information. A miner knows their mine. A cutter knows the trade of lapidary and the sources they have cut. A retail store owner knows their merchandise. Everyone can read a book, but who did the author interview to get the information and pictures? How does the author or the future researchers know the information is correct?

Turquois, Joseph Pogue (1915)                     Tiffany Blue, Patricia MaGraw (2006)                 The Great American Turquoise Rush, Philip Chambless and Mike Ryan (2016)

George Kunz and James McNulty each continually stated that they get $200,000.00 per year of turquoise out of the Cerrillos area.

Two million dollars worth of turquoise was produced out of the Cerrillos area in one decade (1890-1900). It is stated over and over in books and has influenced how researchers use the Cerrillos area historically and currently. Turquoise trade, uses, productions, qualities and prices are all referenced using this type of information in books. But is all of the information true? What occurred at the same time that the turquoise production and value increased in 1891? Human nature is the clue for the answer. Sometimes people might have ulterior motives. Gasp.

     Turquois, Pogue (1915) page, 135 “From this point of view the output of the Cerrillos deposits alone from 1890 to 1900, the period of greatest productiveness, is estimated at $2,000,000.00;” This time, this specific quote is from George Kunz.

                Where is the evidence? Riches? Houses? Secured barriers to the mines?

                                In 1900 $2,000,000.00 is equivalent to $61,240,000.00 in 2020.

                                In 1900 the price of gold was $20.67 an ounce.

                Kunz is saying that 1 carat of turquoise is essentially worth half of an ounce of gold.

                                There is 5 carats in 1 gram/There are 28.35 grams in 1 ounce

                                If 1 carat of turquoise cost $10.00, how much is that per ounce?

                                I ounce of turquoise would equal 141.75 carats

                                141.75 carats of turquoise sold at $10.00 per carat equals $1,417.75

                With inflation in 2018 that is $43,179.65.   1 ounce of gold was 20.67.

Where are the riches, houses, and secured barriers for gold mines and those connected to the gold industry? Where is the evidence for this type of production and value in the turquoise industry? Zero

The Great American Turquoise Rush 1890-1910, Philip Chambless and Mike Ryan (2016) page 43

“During the 1880s, all mining activity in the Cerrillos District was directed toward finding gold and silver. If turquoise was found, it was ignored because the price for the mineral was so low it did pay to bring it to market.”

What changed in 1891? Page 42

“In 1880, New York stock promoters hired a Yale University geology professor named Benjamin Silliman to prepare reports on Mount Chalchihuitl and other New Mexico mining properties. He was considered a mining authority and charged top dollar for his services. In exchange, he had a tendency to exaggerate the facts in the interest of his employers. Silliman’s articles were used to advance the fame and stimulate stock sales in the East.”

Who was pushing the agenda that Cerrillos had great turquoise and a lot of it?

Friar Marcos de Niza, George Kunz, Benjamin Silliman, and James McNulty are who the writers, newspapers journalists and investors were listening too. Many of the Santa Fe archaeologists are still listening to them.

Tiffany Blue, (2006) page 139

Sometimes when we exaggerate we can get ourselves in trouble. Especially if a lawyer asks us about our exaggerations in a court of law.

Lawyer Clancy- “at the time Sena and Purdy were down there, at the time you spoke of–didn’t you tell Mr. Purdy that you were getting two hundred thousand dollars out of the mine?”

McNulty-”I did, and I have told others besides, anybody who will ask me—How much did you get out of here, I says, I will not put it under two hundred thousand dollars.”

Lawyer Clancy-”Don’t you think now that since the time you there to work that you have taken out and shipped away about five hundred thousand dollars’ worth of stones?”

McNulty-”That I do not say. I do not know anything about it. I am under oath now.”

Is there any turquoise evidence that what they said or the Cerrillos Agenda Apologists are saying today?

I think some of what is said is true but the overall story of trade and production and value is not. A miner friend of mine uses two words to describe the Cerrillos area’s written history and production, “boondoggle and incredible”.

Tiffany Blue, page 32

The information that can correct a lot of the Cerrillos exaggerations is right there in existing books.

May 25, 1899-”I cannot find any better specimens than last shipment to stop work. The box contained plenty of good color. But there was not a single piece that we could make any use of.” Tiffany’s was not making “Indian” jewelry. Tiffany only needed stones the size of 1 or 2 carats.

                Page 15-”By 1895, Doty pressured McNulty for more stone and better results.”

Page 68-”McNulty regularly received letters telling him the turquoise he sent wasn’t worth much.”

                Page 75-”They average a cigar box of turquoise per week”

                Page 15-”Each box contained about five pounds of stone.”

                Page 52-”a cigar box being worth, as we were told, as much as” $10,000.00”

               Page 100, August 13, 1901-”we are in no better condition than we were three years ago.

According to my research, the Cerrillos area mines were more about investor’s money than the production of turquoise. Maybe I am looking at the wrong information and need some help to see more information.


Turquoise, Gem of the Centuries, Oscar Branson, (1976)

Page 43 and 51

This book has so much to do with winners writing history and creating influences for the ages. It was the first book to showcase “American” turquoise in color photography. The nightmare occurred when the author and others had to deal with reality. America’s most famous Cerrillos turquoise area did not have the production or the quality that had been written and marketed for so long. Whereas other cultures and turquoise histories were defined by a grade of turquoise, the American market defined the specific mining area by a name first and not by a conformed grading system. How does America’s most famous mine stack up to the standard of the Persian blue turquoise and the history and influence that Tiffany’s starting promoting so many years ago in the Eastern United States.

The world expects gemstones to have conformity and they generally see quality turquoise as only blue with clarity and no matrix.

Not every mine produces turquoise of the same quality of the Persian turquoise. This Cerrillos picture shows how the problem of average turquoise was solved: They just added Persian and Tyrone turquoise to the picture. Who was going to know the difference? Now! According to this picture; the Cerrillos turquoise from New Mexico is just a good as Persian turquoise from Iran! Now that is marketing!

Why did Oscar Branson choose the nice oval turquoise with clarity to be the “classic” from Cerrillos?

                They were trying to compete with the famous Persian blue.

Why did they put Persian turquoise in the picture as Cerrillos turquoise?

                Same reason.

Why did they put Tyrone turquoise in the picture for Cerrillos turquoise?

                At least it was from New Mexico.

Why did they use such low grade Tyrone turquoise for the Tyrone picture?

                They couldn’t afford for the Cerrillos area mines to not have the best turquoise in New Mexico.

I went to Cerrillos Day a few years ago at Turquoise Hill.  The Santa Fe archaeologists group had a huge banner up about their turquoise event. They used a picture of a specific Mesoamerican mask as the center piece.  At that time the archaeologists did not know that only the bottom eyelids are inset with turquoise. When I informed one of the archaeologists about the eyelids his response was….Please do tell anyone.

To the New Mexico Archaeologists in Santa Fe and Their Colleagues

Over time, some New Mexico archaeologists began agreeing with me that Cerrillos is not the only source of turquoise for artifacts from places such as Chaco Canyon, other sites and what is now Mexico. At one of their last presentations that I attended I was astonished at their lack of science, credits and conclusion. They analyzed a grouping of turquoise samples from a archaeological dig site. Their conclusion was that a few pieces of turquoise from the pile were from one mine source and a few more were from another mine and a few more were from another mine source and so on. They determined that the turquoise samples were from a variety of mines including Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. Seriously! Did these ancients go selecting different kinds of turquoise while shopping at the turquoise isle at Walmart? I’ll take one of these, 3 of these and 9 of those. Urgh.

Now What?

What if most of our interpretation of the history of turquoise is incomplete or wrong?

 Cool. Our future generations will have something to do.

∙We are human and have made human errors. Such as trusting that everyone who has been interviewed or wrote something about turquoise new all the facts.

 I know I don’t know all the facts. It will take everyone. Even some of us who have been wrong in the past.

∙We have limited science and have continued to jump to conclusions that are incorrect.

∙What can we do?

Let’s get the artifacts, data bases and science that we do have; correctly cataloged for future generations. If we have time and the correct science to finish the study….Cool.

  1. Most past and current information about the Cerrillos mining area is more about repeating and marketing than research?
  2. How did the Western Hemisphere start from the North and develop South?
  3. People are people. We all have a part and we are all somewhat colorful.
  4. Anthropology is more important than finger printing turquoise.
  5. Historically the turquoise trade in the western hemisphere is regional.
  6. Turquoise is greater than science.
  7. There were other American turquoise mines that were supplying Tiffany’s.
  8. Today’s Native American appreciation and marketing of bright blue turquoise is a twentieth century phenomena.

Moving Forward

The American Southwest has some of the greatest people and resources to study the history of the western hemisphere. I believe that the Western Hemisphere history of trade has never been completely studied or written. I believe this is a positive statement. It is an energizing and fascinating statement. If it is true that the winner writes history? The current history was written and interpreted by Spanish and American European influenced people. If it is true, that science is impartial: Then everyone who reads this blog should be excited to look into new studies of the Western Hemisphere as it relates to turquoise and trade.

Make sure to tune in to the Talking Turquoise 1/24/2020 on the Turquoise Museum Facebook Page to participate in the discussion of this post on Turquoise Trade.

To read more of Joe Dan’s posts check out Joe Dan’s Corner

Talkin Turquoise 1/24/2020 Joe Dan will discuss the latest post in Joe Dan's Corner "The Trade of Turquoise in the Western Hemisphere" https://turquoisemuseum.com/2020/01/22/turquoise-trade-in-the-western-hemisphere/

Posted by Turquoise Museum on Friday, January 24, 2020