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Maya Jadeite Jewelry

Updated on October 24, 2011

Archaeologists know that the royals wore a lot of jewelry. They wore bracelets, nose plugs, ear plugs, earrings, knee bands, anklets, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and pendants made from shark and crocodile teeth and claws, shells, obsidian, bone, wood, polished stone, and jadeite. Ear plugs are earrings that fit inside large holes cut into the earlobe.

Common people wore simple nose plugs, lip plugs, and earrings of bone, wood, shell, and stone. Nose and lip plugs are just like ear plugs. They are pieces of jewelry that fit into holes cut for the purpose of decorating the body.

Mayan ceremonial mask found at Tak'alik Ab'aj
Mayan ceremonial mask found at Tak'alik Ab'aj
Jadeite mask of the Mayan King Pacal Votan of Palenque
Jadeite mask of the Mayan King Pacal Votan of Palenque


Mesoamerican jade, from the highlands of what is now Guatemala, is called “jadeite.” Though green like the jade of China, it can also be black. Maya royalty prized jadeite because its green color reminded them of fields of green corn stalks.

Jadeite is a very hard stone that ranges in color from blue-green to nearly black. The Maya collected it from the riverbeds of what is now Guatemala. Because they prized it so much, Maya nobles even drilled holes in their teeth and filled them with jadeite! The Maya learned how to drill, grind, and cut jadeite from the Olmec people.

Because jadeite is so hard, it takes great skill to carve - especially without metal tools. Flint, which the Maya used for cutting and carving limestone, was useless against jadeite.

But the ancient Maya were able to saw jadeite into flat slabs by drawing a cord embedded with quartz pieces back and forth over its surface with the help of water and sand. They used bone drills to make decorative cuts and plant fibers to polish the surface of the stone. Jewelry and other items made out of jadeite have been found in Maya tombs.


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