World Famous Cerrillos Turquoise
from the Little Chalchihuitl Mine claim

What's in a Name:
In most European languages the bright blue or blue-green stone is called "Turkish" because at the time of its introduction to Europe it appeared to have originated from the country of Turkey. In fact, just like the large bird we now call a turkey, those early specimens came from lands beyond the country of Turkey, but passed through that country on their way to Europe. 'Turkish' in the lingua franca (Frankish or French tongue) of the day was "turquois" or "turquoise".

As early as 1652, Thomas Nicols, an English writer, referred to "the beauty of a Turky stone". In ancient Greek it was borea, after the deep blue color of the northern sky; in Latin, turchus or turchius. In Spanish it is known as turquesa and in German, tükis. In Japanese it is (by extension) turkodama. Those earliest blue Turky stones in Europe were probably in fact mined near Nishapur in Persia.

Turquoise, called mafkat by the ancient Egyptians, was obtained from the oldest known mines in the world, which are on the southwest edge of the Sinai Peninsula. As recently (!) as 3,000 years ago these mines were superceded by other sources.

In the New World it was called chalchihuitl or xiuitl ['xiu'=blue], which are Nahua words. Nahuatl is the language of the Aztecs and related tribes of central Mexico. "Chalchihutil" was used for both jade and turquoise. For Native Meso-Americans 'chalchihuitl' was green jade in the tropical south where there was no natural turquoise, and green or bluish turquoise in the more arid north.

In response to a question about the root components of "chalchihuitl", Dr. John F. Schwaller of the University of Minnesota, Morris, has provided this explanation:

The Nahuatl word for emerald (and turquoise and jade and any other precious green stone) is chalchihuitl. It cannot be broken down any further. It looks as though it might be made up of two parts: chal + chihuitl, but it isn't. It is an independent morpheme. All of our early sources are uniform in describing it as a word for green stone or emerald. Chalchihuitl is a very flexible term, as noted. It can really be used for any precious green stone and thus became associated with turquoise and jade, although there is a real range of colors, hardness, etc. among those three. Metaphorically is also has connotation of preciousness. It appears frequently as "my precious green stone, my beloved."

The Nauhua colonial name for the Turquoise Hill on the north side of the Cerrillos was Cerro Chalchiquite. In the Argentine Andes the valley of turquoises is recorded as Valle de Chalchaquies.

One of the smallest, but at the same time most important, of the Cerrillos Hills is Mount Chalchihuitl, the site of numerous prehistoric turquoise mines. The early Spanish visitors to New Mexico did not value the mineral - there is no "Cerro Turquesa" - but their central-Mexico allies and fellow-travelers, primarily Nahuatl-speaking Tlascalans, esteemed turquoise above all other stones. Hence, we have inherited through the Spanish records the Tlascalan name for this 'turquoise hill'.

On January 20, 1978, Mt. Chalchihuitl was enrolled into the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties.

There is a second Chalchihutl in New Mexico, yet another source of turquoise, in Cíbola County near the town of Bluewater. These Chalchihutl Mines are also on the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties.

*** Article from Amigos de Cerrillos Hills State Park  ***

Please visit the  Amigos website for more in-depth articles and information on the Cerrillos Hills State Park.


"The locality is still frequented by Indians and the cave is blackened by the smoke of their camp
 fires and is
 partly sheltered at the opening by a pile of cedar boughs. A bed of green cedar was also
found inside and a great heap of ashes where the fire is generally made.
 They appear to work
among the ancient debris which in some places
is turned up and covered with pits or holes.
Around some of these
pits fragments of the mineral were found in their seams
crust on the rock. It is probably Turquoise." (W.P. Blake, 1858)