Greenstone is a common term for valuable, green-hued minerals and metamorphosed igneous rocks and stones which early cultures used in the fashioning of hard-stone carvings such as jewelry, beads, statuettes, ritual tools, and various other artifacts. Greenstone artifacts may be made of Greenschist, Serpentine, Chrysoprase, Olivine, and Nephrite, among other green-hued minerals. The term also includes Jade and Jadeite, whose greenish hue generally derives from the presence of minerals such as Chlorite, Hornblende, or Epidote.
The value of Greenstones went beyond their material worth. Perhaps because of its color, mirroring that of Water and Vegetation, it was symbolically associated with the Sources of Life and Death and therefore possessed High Religious and Spiritual Importance.
The Maya placed Jade Beads in the mouth of the Dead. Michael D. Coe has suggested that this practice relates to a sixteenth-century funerary ritual performed at the deaths of Pokom Maya Lords: "When it appears then that some Lord is dying, they had ready a precious green stone which they placed at his mouth when he appeared to expire. They believe that they captured the Final Breath and Spirit, and on expiring, they very lightly rubbed his face with it. It captures the Breath, Soul or Spirit."
Bishop Landa has associated the placement of Jade beads in the mouths of the dead with Symbolic Planting and Rebirth of the Maize God. Precious offerings depicting Maize have been found in the Sacred Cenote, paralleling the interment of the Maize God himself entering the Underworld. Many objects found were considered uniquely beautiful, and had been exquisitely crafted before offered as Sacrifice.
The Maya also associated Jade with the Sun and the Wind. Many Maya Jade Sculptures and Figurines of the Wind God have been discovered, as well as many others displaying Breath and Wind symbols. In addition, caches of four Jade objects placed around a central element which have been found are believed to represent not only the Cardinal Directions, but the Directional Winds as well.
Elite Mayans wore Jade pendants that depicted "Mirror Gods" associated with Ruling Class in Mesoamerica. Mirror Divination was a part of Spiritual Practice in Mayan Culture, and the Mayan Sun God, Kinich Ahau, was often depicted in Jade and other materials with a mirror on his forehead. The reflective quality of highly polished Jade connected Jade to other mirrored objects, promoting its spiritual importance and aesthetic value to the Maya.
The aesthetic and religious significance of the various colors remains a source of controversy and speculation. The bright green varieties may have been identified with the young Maize God. The Olmec were fascinated with the unique blue jade of Guatemala and it played an important role in their rituals involving water sources. The Olmec used Blue Jade because it represented water, an Olmec iconography representing the Underworld. Blue also represented the blue color that snakes turn before shedding their skin; therefore, blue represents Aquatic and Serpentine rejuvenation.
Greenstone minerals were presumably selected for their color rather than their chemical composition. In archaeology therefore, having a loosely applied general term is at least partially influenced by the observation that Ancient Cultures often used and considered these various green-hued materials as interchangeable. Greenstone objects are often found very considerable distances from the source of the rock, indicating early travel or trading networks.
The use of Jade in Mesoamerica for Symbolic and Ideological Ritual was highly influenced by its rarity and value among pre-Columbian Mesoamerican Cultures, such as the Olmec, the Maya, and the various groups in the Valley of Mexico. Although Jade artifacts have been created and prized by many Mesoamerican Peoples, the Motagua River Valley in Guatemala was previously thought to be the sole source of Jadeite in the region.
This extreme durability makes fine grained or fibrous Jadeite and Nephrite highly useful for Mesoamerican technology. It was often worked or carved as ornamental beads, a medium upon which glyphs were sometimes inscribed, or shaped into figurines, weapons, and other objects. Many Jade artifacts crafted by later Mesoamerican Civilizations appear cut from simple Jade axes, implying that the earliest Jadeite Trade was based in utilitarian function.
Pre-Columbian Civilizations, the Southern American Indian Cultures that evolved in Mesoamerica (part of Mexico and Central America) and the Andean region (Western South America) prior to Spanish exploration and conquest devastation in the 16th century.
The Pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American Continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during the Early Modern period.