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Sky Blue Stone

Sky Blue Stone: The Turquoise Trade in World History

Arash Khazeni
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 217
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt6wqbh8
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  • Book Info
    Sky Blue Stone
    Book Description:

    This book traces the journeys of a stone across the world. From its remote point of origin in the city of Nishapur in eastern Iran, turquoise was traded through India, Central Asia, and the Near East, becoming an object of imperial exchange between the Safavid, Mughal, and Ottoman empires. Along this trail unfolds the story of turquoise--a phosphate of aluminum and copper formed in rocks below the surface of the earth--and its discovery and export as a global commodity.In the material culture and imperial regalia of early modern Islamic tributary empires moving from the steppe to the sown, turquoise was a sacred stone and a potent symbol of power projected in vivid color displays. From the empires of Islamic Eurasia, the turquoise trade reached Europe, where the stone was collected as an exotic object from the East. The Eurasian trade lasted into the nineteenth century, when the oldest mines in Iran collapsed and lost Aztec mines in the Americas reopened, unearthing more accessible sources of the stone to rival the Persian blue.Sky Blue Stonerecounts the origins, trade, and circulation of a natural object in the context of the history of Islamic Eurasia and global encounters between empire and nature.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95835-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvii)
  5. MAPS
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  6. Introduction: The Turquoise Ring of the Emperor Jahangir
    (pp. 1-16)

    In the spring of 1613, the Mughal emperor Jahangir dispatched Muhammad Husayn Khan Chelebi, a merchant of gems and other precious objects, to Safavid Iran with letters of introduction and orders to purchase rarities for the royal estate in India. Chelebi met Shah . ‘Abbas I in the eastern Iranian province of Khurasan and presented him with a letter from the Mughal emperor. Most important among the list of items that the merchant was charged to find was quality turquoise, but the Safavid monarch informed him that the precious stone was under royal monopoly and could only be gifted by...

  7. CHAPTER 1 The Colored Earth
    (pp. 17-26)

    From the depths of the earth comes a piece of the sky. Turquoise is a mineral substance formed in the seams of rocks below the surface of the earth. A hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminum, it is born in igneous rocks, as magma, fiery liquid deep within the earth, surges toward the surface, pools, and solidifies. In a geological process that lasts thousands of years, nature weathers, buries, and erodes these rocks, bringing their copper, aluminum, phosphorus, oxygen, hydrogen, and water together to create the chemistry of turquoise, CuAl₆(PO₄)₄(OH)₈·4H₂O (see table 1).¹ An opaque stone whose pale blue results...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Turquoise, Trade, and Empire in Early Modern Eurasia
    (pp. 27-54)

    It was the stone of victory:firuza. The stone of the legendary lost turquoise thrones of Firdawsi’sShahnama(Book of kings), emulated in the blue-tiledmaydans(esplanades) of oasis cities. To the Indo-Persian Islamic empires of early modern Eurasia, it was a sacred mineral substance and an object of interimperial exchange. From its remote beginnings, buried in mines outside the city of Nishapur in eastern Iran, turquoise and its material culture traveled across India, Central Asia, and the Near East and entered into the tributary economies of the post-Timurid empires of Islamic Eurasia. Turquoise became ingrained in the customs of...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The Turquoise of Islam
    (pp. 55-70)

    As the turquoise trade spread in Timurid Central Asia, Safavid Iran, and Mughal India, the stone became converted into an imperial and sacred object projected in radiant displays across the blue-tiled cities of the eastern Islamic world. Its color marked the metropolitan architecture of oasis cities along the trade routes of Islamic Eurasia, visible from Timurid Samarqand and Herat to Tabriz of the White and the Black Sheep dynasties and from Safavid Isfahan, built in the time of Shah ‘Abbas I, to the Friday Mosque of Shah Jahan at Thatta in the Mughal province of Sindh. Tile makers and ceramicists...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Stone from the East
    (pp. 71-90)

    From the early modern empires of Islamic Eurasia, turquoise reached Europe, becoming coveted and collected as a rare and peregrine stone from the distant East. The stones that arrived in the markets of Europe came overland from Iran through the Ottoman Empire—and were thus known as “Turkish,”turchesein Italian andturquoisein French. European travelers encountered turquoise following the long-distance voyages of the continent’s seaborne commercial empires to Asia in search of commodities and places to establish trading colonies. These empires and their commercial economies arrived on the heels of what is commonly referred to as the age...

  11. CHAPTER 5 The Other Side of the World
    (pp. 91-126)

    The nineteenth-century gold rush and global quest for precious metals and stones transformed the Eurasian turquoise trade. Imperial projects to order and reclaim nature and its resources attempted to revive the lost turquoise mines of the Near East. At the start of the century, the ancient turquoise deposits of the Egyptian Sinai were largely forgotten, known and visited only by local Bedouins. But European explorers surveying the ruins, monuments, and environments of ancient Egypt soon “rediscovered” these mines, and in the 1840s a British cavalry officer, Major Charles Macdonald, set out to reopen them. In 1882, on a tour of...

  12. PLATES
    (pp. None)
  13. Epilogue: Indian Stone
    (pp. 127-134)

    In 1519, the ruler of the Aztec Empire, Montezuma, sent tributes of turquoise to the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés on the latter’s arrival at Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico. The gifts included masks, scepters, and shields of turquoise tesserae. Cortés, like other explorers of his time, had traveled to the New World in search of gold, but he found that among the Aztecs, turquoise—largely from the distant Cerrillos mines in present-day New Mexico—was more highly esteemed and held a prominent place in their regalia as an otherworldly and celestial stone.

    TheGeneral History of the Things of...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 135-164)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 165-182)
  16. Index
    (pp. 183-195)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 196-196)