sTones have shaped culture for as long as culture has existed. Their strange form led us to tell stories – of trolls disguised as rocks, of cursed virgins dancing on the Sabbath, of a woman with snake hair and petrified eyes. They provided us with tools, from ax heads to the rare metals used in camera phones. They were indicative of power and wealth, often derived in turn from the mines and trade routes that distributed their wealth.
We think of a stone as something stable and immobile, but that’s just a matter of a time scale by which you look at things. my new book, Lapidarium: The Secret Life of StonesContains 60 stories, each about a different stone. Here are 10 unforgettable rocks rolling through its pages…
Gold Salamander (mid 16th century), Ulster Museum
In 1967, underwater archaeologist Robert Steinwett led an expedition in the icy, flowing waters near Lacada Point, off the northern Irish coast, to retrieve objects from the wreckage of the Girona River, The Gallias warship which fell in 1588. Sténuit’s team found gold, coins and guns – but also a large amount of jewelry. Girona was part of the Spanish fleet, the invasion had been planned, the gems would have shone from the robes of the conquerors as they sailed to London victoriously. This sapphire necklace was a symbol of Spain’s power and influence. The salamander’s design is inspired by Absolutl – an amphibious creature honored by the Aztecs – while the sapphire comes from Burma. It was believed that sapphires glow with inner light, and salamanders live in fire: an auspicious pair for a talisman worn in battle.
Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty (1970), Utah
In 1970, a Utah Parks Department contact told artist Robert Smithson that the waters of the Great Salt Lake had turned tomato soup north of Lucien Katoff. For an artist whose subject matter was the landscape itself, this was an irresistible temptation. He traveled with his wife, artist Nancy Holt, to Utah, and wandered around the lake to locate a work composed of earth, water, and sky. Spiral Jetty has been imagined as a vortex, vortex, galaxy, and whirlpool of geologic time out of sight. The length of the work is almost half a kilometer, and it was built from 6,650 tons of local black basalt. Over the years it disappeared and reappeared as the height of the water fluctuated: Part of the lake’s environment, this tough rock structure is now wearing an armor of salt crystals.
We think of stone as inert, far from the animal kingdom, but it can also form quickly – just look inside your kettle. Stone concretions also form inside the body: gallstones in the gallbladder, kidney stones in the kidneys, bladder stones in the bladder, intestinal stones in the gastrointestinal tract, nasal stones in the nasal passages, etc. These accounts were compiled by prominent British crystallologist, prison service and peace activist Kathleen Lonsdale. In 1962, the Salvation Army contacted Lonsdale to help analyze bladder stones removed from children in India. Lonsdale’s groundbreaking study, published in Science in 1971, opened with a thigh squeak suggesting that “the largest human stone ever recorded weighed over 1.36 kilograms.”
to have a baby
Gongshi, lingbi . limestonedate unknown
For collectors, the most valuable dramatic Chinese rocks are rocks gongshi Known in English as “Seeker’s Rock” or “Soul Stone” and in Japanese suiseki An object of dynamic, evocative shape used as a centerpiece for meditation. It is placed on carved wooden stands that make it stable in its most attractive position. gongshi He could be as small as a thumb or as tall as a teenager. Historically, the most valuable type of gonshi is the Lingbishi (Lingbi stones): twisted, tormented fragments of fine-grained limestone from Lingbi County in northern Anhui Province.
An emerald and diamond brooch (circa 1910) that belonged to Mehrani Kapurtala
Kapurthala’s favorite gem, Mahrani, was a crescent-shaped emerald that she spotted on her husband’s largest elephant. Photos of this legendary beauty show that she wears the huge stone just like an elephant, on her forehead. Born Anita Delgado Briones, Maharaja Jagajit Singh of Kapurthala fell in love with the Spanish dancer at first sight (according to fairytale convention) when he watched her perform at the Gran Corsal nightclub in Madrid. After accepting Jagatjit Singh’s proposal, Anita submitted to the full Pygmalion treatment, learning to ski, ride a horse, and play tennis, billiards and piano. She acquired several languages and learned rigorous etiquette before her marriage. The crescent-shaped emerald was presented on her 19th birthday as a reward for learning Urdu.
Barbara Hepworth, Mother and Child (1934), Hepworth Wakefield
For Barbara Hepworth, stone was not an inert material: it responded strongly to the material itself, its idiosyncrasies and associations. Mother and baby are carved in Pink Ancaster, a compact Lincolnshire limestone often used as a building material: a practical British stone. Mother and child are divided into two parts: the “mother” is round like an ancient mountain, and her bosom forms a valley. In this stands the small figure of the “baby girl”, independent, but close, leaning towards her. Hepworth offered a new interpretation of an ancient theme – one for the era of progressive relations and Freudian psychoanalysis – two people, cut from one stone, but ultimately separated.
“Eric”, a spotted pliosaur skeleton excavated at the Coober Pedy, Australian Museum, Sydney
Since the 19th century, Australia has been the world’s leading exporter of opal. The most valuable is the black opal of the Lightning Ridge, whose depths shaded by an iridescent fire the color of malachite and lapis lazuli. Coober Pedy, mined since 1915, remains the largest exporter of opal by volume, but the market is changing. In 2008, Ethiopia emerged as a new source for opals of exceptional clarity and play of colour. Opal consists of balls of eroded silica from sandstone, which water carries down through fissures and fissures until it reaches an impermeable layer where it collects and decomposes. Sometimes the defects in silica-rich water are those formed by the remains of plants or animals, which slowly turn into flashy fossils. In 1987, a miner in Coober Pedy found the remains of an entire plesiosaur, which he named Eric.
Du Wan Burial Collection, Han Dynasty, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Nephrite is a stone of jade in ancient China – a stone more precious than gold, its durability served as a material connection to one’s ancestors, indicating indomitability and endurance of personal inheritance. The practice of carrying jade to the afterlife was developed in the Han period (202 BC – 220 AD). The early members of the Liu family, their companions, and the high-ranking elite were buried in full jade suits, made of interconnected stone plates. Before placing the body in the tomb, its nine openings were first sealed with jade plugs. It was believed that jade promotes longevity and thus protects the body from rotting.
Gram Parsons in “The Nude Suit” (1969)
In 1913, a child named Nota Kotlyarenko left Kyiv and had his name tarnished due to American immigration. By the 1930s, he was making rhinestone-encrusted G-strings and nipple pies for New York comic performers. In the following decade, he moved as Noddy Cohn to Hollywood and took Rhinestones with him. Faceted synthetic crystals were visible in the late 19th century, and on stage, under electric lights, they were enchanting. Nudie’s Rodeo Taylors promoted a dazzling peacock style for men that by the 1970s made the term “rhinestone cowboy” synonymous with musical stardom. In 1969, Rolling Stone photographed Gram Parsons in his white Nudie suit, the front lines and sides littered with rhinestones of cannabis leaves, opium poppies, and barbiturates that would transport him four years later.
Serpent Mask of Tlaloc (c. 1400-1521) The British Museum
The storm god Talluk is a blue-faced deity associated with fertility and water. Set on a wooden base, two different shades of turquoise describe a pair of snakes that make up the face of the deity, crisscrossing each other at the nose and pairing the eye sockets. The Aztecs valued turquoise as much as the Spaniards valued their gold. The word for blue stone in Nahuatl is xihuitl And it was synonymous with the quality of the precious, being used as fondly as one might use the word “golden” in English – turquoise baby, and turquoise words. According to the Codex Mendoza, three provinces in the Aztec territory had to honor the emperor in turquoise: beads and mosaic tiles served as a form of currency.