This jade carving shows the Maya sun god, K’inich Ahau. It was found in a tomb in Belize.

To the ancient Maya, jade was the most precious of all stones. Its green color symbolized water and sprouting plants, hence fertility, life, rejuvenation and rebirth.

Jade was carved into religious and ornamental objects that were placed in temples and tombs. Jade necklaces and earrings adorned the members of royal families, who also inserted jade beads into holes in their teeth to further flaunt their status. Kings made public appearances wearing belts and breastplates accessorized by remarkably realistic-looking, mosaic jade masks of human faces and decorative, ax-head-shaped jade bars called “celts.”

Most Maya jade comes from Guatemala’s Motagua River Valley. Only technically, it isn’t jade; it’s jadeite.

That’s because, mineralogically speaking, “jade” is a general term referring to the gem forms of two different minerals, nephrite and jadeite.

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