|History of Peridot
Peridot is a gemstone with a fascinating history, both in nature and culture. It is one of the oldest known gemstones, with ancient written records documenting the mining of peridot as early as 1500 B.C. It is a gem especially connected with ancient Egypt, and some historians believe that the famous emeralds of Cleopatra were actually peridots.
In natural terms, peridot's history is different from that of almost all other gems. Most gems are formed in the earth's crust. The two exceptions are peridot and diamond, which are formed much deeper in the earth, in the earth's mantle. Peridot forms in magma in the upper mantle, about 20 to 55 miles deep; it is brought to the surface by tectonic or volcanic activity. Diamond, by contrast, is formed much deeper in the mantle, around 100 to 150 miles below the surface, at extreme pressure and temperature.
The main source of peridot in the ancient world was Topazos Island, now known as Zabargad or St. John's Island, in the Egyptian Red Sea. The island was discussed in the natural history of Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) as having been explored in the fourth century B.C. Peridot was probably known originally as topaz; only much later did the name come to be applied to the gemstone we know today as topaz. Peridot has been mined on Zabargad almost continuously for over 3,500 years. But it is an interesting fact that the exact location of the island was lost for several centuries and was only rediscovered in 1905. The tiny island, often shrouded in fog, is located about 35 miles off the Egyptian costal port of Berenica.
Mining ended on Zabargad around the time of World War II. Today there are five major sources of peridot. Very fine specimens come from Burma, and new material from Pakistan has generated considerable excitement in the gem world. Arizona and New Mexico in the USA are important producers of commercial grade peridot, and Vietnam and China especially are are increasingly important suppliers.
Peridot was first used a talisman in the ancient world and it has a long standing mystical reputation. It has been thought to have the power of warding off anxiety, making men more articulate and promoting success in relationships and marriage.
Peridot was believed to have the power to dissolve enchantments. To exert its full potential, the stone was set in gold. If it was to be used to protect the wearer from evil spirits, it had to be pierced, strung on the hair of a donkey, and worn on the left arm. As a medical remedy, it was powdered to cure asthma. Holding a peridot under the tongue was supposed to lessen the thirst of a person suffering from fever. The high priest's breastplate, which is described in the Book of Exodus, includes a stone for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, one one which is believed to be peridot.
- First Published: December-16-2008
- Last Updated: March-04-2011
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