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Beautiful Bejeweled Amethyst’s History as an Art Medium

Amethyst intaglio portrait of Julius Caesar, Roman, 50-40 B.C.E.

The February birthstone is amethyst. A form of non-fluorescing hard stone quartz whose typically purple shading comes from irradiation of iron or transition element impurities, amethyst was once considered one of the cardinal, or most valuable, gemstones. Occasionally exhibiting secondary shades of blue or red, the beautiful stone is highly popular among mineral collectors, crystal healers, art lovers, lapidaries. While not considered as valuable as it once was due to recent discoveries of large deposits of the mineral, amethyst often produces stunning jewelry.

Traditionally most carved gemstones in the west are a form of quartz, the carving techniques adopted for quartz also apply to amethyst. Amethyst deposits have been found on almost every continent and it’s availability was a key factor in it’s popularity as a carving medium of artisans in antiquity. Deposits have been found in Brazil, Uruguay, Austria, Russia, Zambia, and Korea, as well the eastern and southern areas of the United States, including Texas, North Carolina, and the Lake Superior Region.

Amethysts was carved and treasured by cultures such as those of Japan, Iran, Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Anglo-Saxons and others. Different cultures each put their own spin on the importance, meaning and value of the stone. It was highly treasured by Russian Empress Catherine who sent thousands of miners into the Ural mountains seeking the gemstone. In ancient Rome, the purple color of the gem was associated with the purple color reserved for the elite and the emperor. The medieval Catholic church’s bishops prized amethyst’s color. The ancient Egyptians worked the material into amulets for protection against harm. Moses the prophet is said to have described amethyst as representing the spirit of god. The ancient Greeks believed the stone offered protection from drunkenness. The Tibetans created rosaries from the stone and considered it sacred to Buddha. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote that amethyst quickened intelligence and dissipated evil thoughts. The Anglo-Saxons fashioned beads, while was used for intaglio.

In this article we present a visual tour of the different ways amethyst has been used in art, both ancient, antique, and modern.

Amethyst intaglio portrait of Julius Caesar, Roman, 50-40 B.C.E.

Amethyst intaglio portrait of Julius Caesar, Roman, 50-40 B.C.E.

Byzantine Jeweled Bracelet of gold, silver, pearls, amethyst, sapphire, glass, quartz

Byzantine Jeweled Bracelet of gold, silver, pearls, amethyst, sapphire, glass, quartz, 500-700 C.E.

1st Century Greek or Roman Amethyst Oval

1st Century Greek or Roman Amethyst Oval

Amethyst, Copper, Gold and Silver Frankish Disk Brooch, 550-650 C.E.

Frankish Disk Brooch, c. 550-650 B.C.E. with Amethyst Jewel

American Brooch by Theodore B. Starr, 1900, Amethyst, Gold, Garnet, Enamel

Amethyst, Garnet, Gold and Enamel Brooch by Theodore B. Starr, American, 1900

Egyptian Amethyst Scarab, Middle Kingdom, 1981-1950 B.C.E.

Egyptian Amethyst Scarab, Middle Kingdom, ca. 1981–1950 B.C. The scarab beetle was a potent symbol of creation and regeneration among the ancient Egyptians.

Chinese Amethyst Qing Dynasty Seal, Late 19th-early 20th Century

Chinese Qing Dynasty Amethyst , Late 19th – Early 20th Century

Chinese Qing Dynasty Snuff Bottle of White, Green, and Brown Jadeite with Amethyst Quartz Stopper 1736-95

Chinese Qing Dynasty Snuff Bottle of White, Green and Brown Jadeite with Amethyst Stopper, Qianlong Period (1736-1795)

Spanish Clip Earrings, mid-19ths Century, Gold, Metal and Amethyst

Mid-19th Century Avant-Garde Spanish Clip Earrings, Amethyst, Silver, Metal

We may not have antique carvings, but you can check out our lovely collection of amethyst for sale.

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Electrifying Petrified Wood Discovery on the Island of Lesbos, Greece

The Greek island of Lesbos is notable for it’s Petrifed Wood forest, a protected national monument. The forest is located on the western portion of the island and was formed from the Late Oligocene to Lower–Middle Miocene and consists of  silicified remnants of a sub-tropical forest that going back 20–15 million years ago.

Petrified Forest on the Island of Lesbos, Greece, by C messier – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8926168

Recent discoveries in the rich Petrified Forest have been electrifying. First was the rare discovery of a spectacular 19.5 meter long log , with accompanying roots, branches, and trees, the only found to date in over 25 years of excavations. Weeks later, the excavators uncovered over 150 more petrified wood logs and petrified wood stumps including conifers, fruit producing trees, sequoia trees, pine, palm, cinnamon and oak trees. The finds were all discovered in the same pit.

The excavation team has been working since 2013 excavating along a 20km stretch of highway and have made 15 major finds, but these all pale to this most recent discovery, which was actually the result of a lucky accident. One the excavators notices a leaf in a stretch of the highway about to get asphalted, and halted the road work.

The park has been designated a UNESCO Global GeoPark. There is an excellent museum well worth visiting. If you visit the park, remember that the removal and transfer of fossilized material is prohibited by law. The forest includes six parks. The fossilized trees include mainly huge sequoias and primitive pine trees in an ecosystem closest to the coniferous forests of North America.

While we haven’t been to Lesbos we do have some of our own spectacular Petrified Wood finds available for sale in our catalog.

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Short Crystal: Quartz and the Fossilized Bird

A recent study in Frontiers in Earth Science reveals that researchers discovered quartz crystals in the stomach of a bird that lived alongside the dinosaurs. The bird, a member of the Enantiornithes clade of fossil birds, appeared to be a sensational discovery, as previously there had never been a find which preserved any traces of food in the fossils stomach which would clue researchers in to the diet of the animal. Many modern birds have what’s called a gizzard, a thick and muscular portion of the stomach used to help digest food. Often birds swallow small stones know as gizzard stones, which make their way to the gizzard itself where it helps to crush tough or difficult to digest food. These stones are know as gastroliths and have been found in some dino and bird fossils providing hints as to the diet of those animals. The presense of stones in the stomach, though isn’t defiinitive as to the purpose of the stones. There are some modern birtds of prey that swallow rocks to help move material through their digestive tract, cleaning it out, and it’s hard to differentiate between a gastrolith and a gastrolith that is a gizzard stone without knowing anything about the diet and habits of the animal using the stone. In the end, the reesearchers determined that the quart material found where the birds stomach would have been probably was a gastrolight at all. After exposing the supposed gastroliths to X-rays and a scanning electron microscope it was determined that the rocks were actually chalcedony crystals, quartz that grew in sedimentary rocks. There is evidence of chalcedony crystals forming with a clamshell, or replacing minerals in fossil bones. Furthermore, the crystals in this case were all connected in a thin sheet rather than separate rocks. The rocks were also much larger than would be expected of rocks swallowed by a bird that size. In the end there just wasn’t enough evidence, and some negative evidence against the idea that the rocks were in the birds stomach. Just goes to show, never count your gastroliths before they’s been swallowed.

We don’t have any examples of Enantiornithes, but you can check our our collection of fossils for sale here.

Photograph of the holotype of Zhouornis hani, a type of Enantiornithes
Photograph of the holotype of Zhouornis hani, a type of Enantiornithes,
By Yuguang Zhang, Jingmai O’Connor, Liu Di, Meng Qingjin, Trond Sigurdsen, Luis M. Chiappe​ – https://peerj.com/articles/407/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33060650