Saturday, October 23, 2010


Virgin Valley, Nevada Opal.  Photo courtesy of Chris Ralph
Today's blog is dedicated to Oregon jeweler extraordinaire, Norm Holliday.  Happy Birthday, Norm!

We grow up thinking things are this way, then we find out they're that way.  Then we realize it may be a little of both.   

I'm still on the subject of opals.  We've had a lot of people in looking at opals for our Opal Event, and my sense is that many are surprised.  Shocked, perhaps.  It  is a complete paradigm shift, from thinking that opals look this way, to understanding that they might look that way too. 

Photo by the author.  These opals are for sale at Harbrook Jewelers.

The photographs are of examples of opal found near where I live.  The rough opal specimen above is from the Virgin Valley of northern Nevada, not too far from the Oregon border.  The faceted opal beads and trillion are from Oregon Butte, in Morrow County, Oregon, and the creamy blue beads are from Owyhee, Oregon.  Opal can look this way, or that way.  

I had a paradigm shift myself this week.  While asking the question, "What is the earliest known use of opal by human beings?" I read that Louis S.B. Leakey discovered opal artifacts in a cave in Nakuru, Kenya, dated to be about 6,000 years old.  But then I read something else about the discovery of opal closer to home that stopped me in my tracks.  I'll bet it will surprise you too.   

There is evidence that Chinese explorers came to North America approximately  4500 years ago on scientific expeditions, and with various mountain peaks as their loci, extensively cataloged their geographical features, the plants and animals, the rivers, and other things of interest that they found surrounding them--including minerals.   Opals.  Like what you see in these pictures.  The explorers reported finding beautiful black opals, which match the description of Virgin Valley opal.

The remnants of these writings, called the Shan Hai King, The Classic of Mountains and Seas, were thought for centuries to be myth, on the order of our Atlantis stories.  No credibility was given to them, because they didn't match any geography known in Asia, and thus they were of no serious academic interest to scholars.  But as it turns out, the detail in which these observations  were made has given compelling evidence that these intrepid geographers were actually describing Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and many other identifiable places in North America.

A paradigm shift.  I won't think of American history the same way again.  Or opals.  And I have a lot more reading to do now!
The World of Opals, by Allan W. Eckert, PhD.  Publisher: Wiley 1997
Gods From the Far East: How the Chinese Discovered America, by Henrietta Mertz.  Publisher: Forgotten Books, 2008

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