Stone of Kings: In Search of the Lost Jade of the Maya

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Overview

A book perfectly timed for the re-setting of the Maya calendar in 2012.... Part history, popular science, armchair travel, and real-life treasure hunt, this is the story of pre-Columbian jade—the precious stone revered by ancient Aztecs, Incans, and Maya—and the scientists, collectors, explorers and entrepreneurs who have been searching for the mythical jade mines for more than a century.

“A compelling tale.... This well-focused and well-told account brings America’s most mythologized gemstone into sharp relief.”...

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Stone of Kings: In Search of the Lost Jade of the Maya

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Overview

A book perfectly timed for the re-setting of the Maya calendar in 2012.... Part history, popular science, armchair travel, and real-life treasure hunt, this is the story of pre-Columbian jade—the precious stone revered by ancient Aztecs, Incans, and Maya—and the scientists, collectors, explorers and entrepreneurs who have been searching for the mythical jade mines for more than a century.

“A compelling tale.... This well-focused and well-told account brings America’s most mythologized gemstone into sharp relief.”

           —Wall Street Journal

“[T]he story of the search for the long-vanished mines of the Mayas . . . [with] engaging digressions into plate tectonics, the technology of jade carving and the brutal history of the regimes of a succession of Guatemalan generals. . . . [Prospectors] Ridinger and Johnson endured earthquakes, coups, kidnapping, even civil war. But eventually they stumbled upon huge blocks of the alluring, elusive stone.”

          —New York Times Book Review

Selected as an Indie Next List “Great Read”

“The search for the sources of this mysterious rock reads like detective fiction, and involves geologists, archaeologists, entrepreneurs, poachers, and a host of other characters, but it’s all true. A wonderful read!” —Michael D. Coe, author of Breaking the Maya Code

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A compelling tale.... This well-focused and well-told account brings America’s most mythologized gemstone into sharp relief.”

           —Wall Street Journal

 

“[A] great pre-Columbian civilization takes center stage in Gerard Helferich’s Stone of Kings . . . the story of the search for the long-vanished mines of the Mayas and their predecessors, the Olmecs . . . [with] engaging digressions into plate tectonics, the technology of jade carving and the brutal history of the regimes of a succession of Guatemalan generals. . . . [Prospectors] Ridinger and Johnson endured earthquakes, coups, kidnapping, even civil war. But eventually they stumbled upon huge blocks of the alluring, elusive stone.”

          —New York Times Book Review

“This is an absorbing and exciting story about a stone that ancient Mesoamericans prized above gold. The search for the sources of this mysterious rock reads like detective fiction, and involves geologists, archaeologists, entrepreneurs, poachers, and a host of other characters, but it’s all true.  A wonderful read!”

—Michael D. Coe, author of Breaking the Maya Code  

“While others were anticipating the dubious 2012 Long Count apocalypse, Gerard Helferich was chasing an answer to a much more interesting Maya mystery—where had the legendary Maya jade come from? Stone of Kings is a rare creature in the world of adventure literature: equal parts fascinating travelogue, rich history, and good old-fashioned detective story.”

—Mark Adams, author of Turn Right at Machu Picchu

Stone of Kings is a well-written and fascinating book that tells the full story of Mesoamerican jade. In today’s world jade is a highly prized gemstone, but for the ancient Maya and other pre-Columbian Mesoamerica civilizations, jade was the most precious and powerful substance in the universe. Against the backdrop of the rise and fall of these civilizations, and a history of conquest, revolution, and civil war, Gerard Helferich describes how archaeologists, geologists, adventurers, and entrepreneurs rediscovered the long lost source of Mesoamerican jade. He also tells us how this discovery led to the rebirth of the art of jade carving in Guatemala, the original homeland of both jade and the Maya people.”  

—Robert Sharer, author of The Ancient Maya

“In Stone of Kings, Gerard Helferich finally demystifies jade in the Americas. From the other-earthly blues of Olmec times to the apple-green translucent jades of the Classic Maya, this book is a gripping travelogue through time and the mysterious backcountry of Guatemala, where fabulous discoveries of this most exotic and highly treasured stone of the New World have recently been made.”

—David W. Sedat, Founding Director, The Copan 2012 Botanical Research

Station

“This is a delightful and exciting book. It has a perfect mix of science and adventure, plus a fascinating cast of real characters, the jade hunters themselves. Recommended to anyone who likes tales of archaeology mixed with adventure—and vice versa!”

—Arthur Demarest, author of Ancient Maya: The Rise and Fall of a Rainforest

Civilization

“Synthesizing the works of geologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians, this book is a highly readable and fascinating description of the search for jade in Mesoamérica from ancient times to the present. Helferich intertwines this story skillfully with the political and economic history of Guatemala and with the crucial role that entrepreneurs Jay and Mary Lou Ridinger of Antigua Guatemala played in this process.”

—Ralph Lee Woodward, author of A Short History of Guatemala

“An engrossing read that should be enjoyed by the general public and scholars alike.”

—Jeremy A. Sabloff, President, Santa Fe Institute 

“Fusion of geological treatise and adventure yarn, exploring the mysteries of Central American jade…. Helferich delivers a lively narrative…. Engaging cross-cultural tale of ancient peoples and modern desires.” —Kirkus Reviews

Praise for the author’s previous book, Humboldt’s Cosmos

 
“A thrilling tale of adventure travel.” —Los Angeles Times

“A great read.” —New Republic Online

“A lush and engaging biographical adventure tale.”—Publishers Weekly

“A magical journey back in time.” —Jackson Free Press

Kirkus Reviews
Fusion of geological treatise and adventure yarn, exploring the mysteries of Central American jade. During his research about explorer Alexander von Humboldt, Helferich (Humboldt's Cosmos, 2005, etc.) learned about jade's importance to pre-Columbian societies: "To peoples such as the Maya, jade was not only heartbreakingly beautiful but supremely powerful." Over time, archaeological expeditions revealed a trail of discoveries that proved the Mesoamericans used jade to create objects for every purpose, and even considered it to have mystical powers. Yet the sources of the mineral remained lost. Through much of the 20th century, adventurers like Edward Thompson, who recovered more than 5,000 jades from a sacred Mayan well in 1909, added to the historical record while shamelessly shipping their finds off to sponsors and museums like the Peabody, without solving this fundamental mystery. In the early 1970s, an American speculator named Jay Ridinger impulsively relocated to San Miguel, Mexico, and became intrigued by the idea of searching for jade. Ridinger would be credited with the revival of the Central American jade industry, although for years it appeared a fool's errand, especially considering that only certain types of Asian jade were then considered valuable. (Helferich notes that in both Olmec and Chinese cultures, jade "was considered nothing less than virtue incarnate.") In Guatemala, Ridinger and his prospecting partner (who eventually became his wife, and continues to run their business) were regarded as "idiotas, outlandish but harmless"--until they found a jade deposit near the Motagua River and purchased the surrounding acreage. Despite numerous setbacks, including the threat of civil war, the Ridingers eventually established a business, creating new carvings that represented jade's "deep history and its ties to the great civilizations of the past." Helferich delivers a lively narrative, notwithstanding passages focused on the scientific minutiae underlying the Ridingers' improbable success. Engaging cross-cultural tale of ancient peoples and modern desires.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762782543
  • Publisher: Lyons Press, The
  • Publication date: 12/21/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,383,626
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerard Helferich is the author of the widely praised Humboldt’s Cosmos, which was a Discover magazine Science Bestseller; and High Cotton, which received the 2008 Authors Award for nonfiction from the Mississippi Library Association. He and his wife divide their time between Yazoo City, Mississippi, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

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Table of Contents

Map of the Maya World VIII

Map of the Olmec World IX

Prologue XI

Part I The Bonediggers

1 "The Most Romantic of All Gems" 3

2 Olmec Blue 31

3 Maya Green 57

Part II The Entrepreneurs

4 Serpentine 89

5 Aventurine 111

6 Jadeite 131

7 Jade Guatemalteco 159

Part III The Storytellers

8 Los Jaderos 185

9 "The Most Mysterious Stone of the World" 203

Epilogue 225

Author's Note 227

Acknowledgments 229

Notes 231

Bibliography 261

Index 275

About the Author 288

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 30, 2011

    The Wrong Stuff

    This tendentious and often breathlessly overwritten book owes more to advertising than archaeology. Commissioned as a PR exercise, it owes more to Guatemalan tourist trap brochures than scientific accounts of how the lost jade mines of the Olmecs and Maya were rediscovered

    Smithsonian researchers first located jadeite in Guatemala's Motagua Valley in 1955, but the multi-million ton deposits of coarse and opaque stone discovered there little resembled the translucent gemstone the Olmecs and Maya revered. Though the Motagua valley material was the wrong stuff archaeologically speaking, jade is jade and the tourist trade soon seized on it as unique souvenir material. By 1974 an American entrepreneur had bought one deposit and begun buying that from may others from jade-gathering locals in the steamy and unvisited valley for a few cents a pound.

    Transported to the attractive highland city of Antigua, the rough jade was used to manufacture jewelry and tourist tschotkes for sale as far a field as Mexico. It was not a stone worth romancing, but credit is due for parlaying it into the basis of a unique tourist business. Unfortunately, Helferich has tried to conflate this commercial success story into one of high adventure, turning a tourist trap proprietor into a wannabe Indiana Jones.

    It just doesn't wash. While telling the unwary their jade comes from the 'quarry of the kings they ' discovered" in 1974, the great secret of the jade trade is that it has none- lowland jade gatherers hawk the same wares by the roadside for pennies a pound, and content to buy them , the Antigua dealers, including Heflerich¿s friends long remained clueless as to where the real lost mines lay- it took local people to find them by accident , and scientists to persuade them their archaeological significance often outweighed their commercial importance. Thanks to their amateur reading of bad geological maps, Helferich's friends failed to explore beyond the valley of the ¿quarry of the kings¿, and never fathom the true extent of a jade bearing region that extends not just south to Honduras , but east across the Caribbean into the Greater Antilles. The Olmec mother lode turned out to lie in mountains a province removed from the region customarily mined , and was only rediscovered after Hurricane Mitch tore away its cover in 1998.

    Helferich nonetheless uncritically repeats his hosts claim to have ¿rediscovered ¿ Olmec jade in 1987, albeit the ¿discovery¿ consisted not of a hard ¿rock deposit, but one river-worn ten inch cobblestone that was neither blue or translucent. Had they really made so important a discovery, it would have made archaeological headlines.

    It didn't happen. Since jade deposits run upwards of a thousand tons, their failure to market any ¿Olmec Blue ¿ suggests no actual outcrop was found-the lost Olmec Blue locale came to light instead in consequence of four decades of field work Despite his monocle and fedora JADES SA¿s vice-president is no hero of to the archaeologists and geophysicists who found-, confirmed, and published the lost mine¿s location in Antiquity in 2001. A long campaign of hype and commercial disinformation made his firm more a part of the Olmec jade problem than its solution.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2013

    Gracekit

    Put rosemary by SwanStar's den but she supposed Petalkit would know anyways by the smell of ferns and SwanStar's nest.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2013

    Foxfang

    Of course. (Is it ok if I just leave my bio? It took me a long time)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2012

    Attention MisterWong

    Can you please contact me ? CTVML@orange.fr

    Thank you very much.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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