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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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    • profile image

      seenugem 6 years ago

      Always Do Your Best.

      Gems will do the Rest.

      Wish you all the Best.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      I love jade. Thanks for telling us about its earlier use

    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      Thanks for appreciating it, Ardie! I know a guy with huge ear-plugs in both ears. His ears are disfigured. It looks very bad if you ask me. Never seen anything like it. Yes, the masks are pretty cool. I guess the creators must have had plenty of time on their hands as well as patience.

      Hi drbj! Thanks for stopping in. It is pretty interesting indeed. You know what? I can add myself to the mix as I'm pretty sure I would love a pretty green stone like that. Who knows, give me a real big one and I might carve a mask out of it.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

      It's interesting, Haunty, that both the Chinese and the Mayans shared a love of this beautiful mostly green gem, jade and jadeite. My favorite color is the deep green. Thanks for this bit of history and the fascinating photos.

    • Ardie profile image

      Sondra 6 years ago from Neverland

      I'm glad nose and ear plugs are not part of our society today - ouch! But with that, we also miss out on the jadite masks. The pure beauty of jadeite far outshines any other jewelry I've seen present day. It must've taken ages to create the beautiful pieces pictured above using the methods you mention. Thanks for sharing this fascinating information.

    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary

      Thanks for stopping in and reading, lavender! I, too, find Maya art fascinating, because it's so exotic.

    • profile image

      lavender3957 6 years ago

      I love jewelry of all origins and I find Jade to be very beautiful. I love the Maya art and find it to fascinating to how it was cultured and created. Thanks for sharing.