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The Oldest Book of Gems

Category: Articles | Posted by: April 16, 2015

The Oldest book of Gemstones

Causes of my assumptionsThe books dated XVII-XXIEnglish, German, French Books about Gemstones: British Colonization, Discovery of America, TravelersLatin Books about Gemstones: The Dark Ages and the Brave Travelers | Greek Books about GemstonesOriental Books about GemstonesHebrew Books about GemstonesRussian Books about GemstonesMiddle East and Asia Minor Books about Gemstones | Conslusion

Studying many books in regards to gemstones, I paid the attention to one curious fact. Practically all the authors borrowed the information about the gemstones from each other.

Curious, isn’t it? Thus, I don’t claim, that all of them are the plagiarist, I claim, in turn, that there is (or, more accurately “existed”) some ancient source, that contains the first mentions about gemstones.

Furthermore, we ought to admit, that there are plenty of the legends, myths and superstitions in regards to gems, that could not occur by chance.

Causes of my assumptions

First of all, I actually read a lot of books, beginning with XVII century, ending with XX century. Why didn’t I read the modern books about the gemstones. The answer is pretty simple — for the same reason. In spite of the information concerning new gemstones, these books contain no useful information, due to borrowing the information from the older sources.

And this applies not only to the modern books. I’ve discovered this fact in regards to all of the books from XVII to XXI century. Isn’t it strange? — no, from the one hand. If you’re trying to describe some certain information you have to use some terminology, especially if we talk about mineralogy.

Actually, such characteristics as hardness, specific gravity, refraction and other terms are the constants and just can’t be described other way.

However, from the other hand, I figured out that some authors (almost all of them) rewriting the texts word for word. But why they did that?

The books dated XVII-XXI

Formerly, the humanity didn’t possess such instrument as the Internet Archive or Google Books to check my assumptions. However, today we have. Anyone can check what I’m talking about.

But, nonetheless, let’s imagine any writer of XIX century, for instance. Yes, I love these authors, especially. You know why? They were much more intelligent, than the modern ones. And this is not about the “intelligence” itself, and even not about education. I’m talking about their position in society.

All these authors were the famous counts and lords, almost each of them was an honorary Member of any scientific society, usually of Royal Society, therefore, these authors were so famous, that they couldn’t lie, or, may be, on the contrary, they had to?

Ok, let’s forget about this fact for a while and try to figure out how they obtained the information. Thus, they came to the library, took many books of the previous authors on the subject of gemstones and began to study them. Of course, some of them, at least, those counts and lords had their own libraries in their own possession.

After thorough study, they became acquainted in such subject as gemstones and, furthermore, they had all the opportunities, such as: time, money, a maid, to create their own “book of gems.” The only one opportunity or, rather, an advantage they DON’T have — the Internet. And that was great, in a certain sense.

But which books they’ve used ?

The most interesting things begin here. There were only two ways:

  1. To read the books, written in their mother tongue;
  2. To read the books, written in Latin and other ancient languages.

Yes, the Latin language was the very big advantage, that those authors have used, in contrast of the modern Internet. Of course, the curious reader could claim “why didn’t you say about the Greek or Sanskrit sources?” — Yeah, he is right, however later about this.

English, German, French Books about Gemstones

This is not much curious to describe the books, written in their native language, however, there are some particular details.

First of all, we ought to admit, that many of these books owe their origin to several particular factors and certain events, namely:

  1. British colonization;
  2. Discovery of America;
  3. The travelers.

British Colonization

Why British colonization? — each of us is acquainted about East India Company, each of us knows, that India, along with other oriental countries, was rich of gemstones for the centuries. Thus, the British colonization of India, and the further processes, followed after it, were facilitated to the advanced learning of the “GEM” subject.

Such countries as Burma (modern Myanmar), India and Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) played a decisive role in the process of GEM education.

Discovery of America

However, the Spanish conquerors have played no less important role. American continent, discovered by them, was also rich for gemstones and gold. One of the authors, I can’t remember now who it was, stated, that Spanish conquerors broke too much Sapphires, in their attempts to check them for hardness, so, by the way. However, this is a second sources of knowledge about the gemstones.


Such travelers as Jean Baptiste Tavernier, Marco Polo, and others, were the third source of the knowledge in regards to the gemstones. At least 85% of authors are referred to Tavernier in their treatises. These authors were the first, who’ve seen many of splendid gemstones with their own eyes. But how did they learn about the existence of gems, and who’ve directed them in the right direction?

Latin Books about Gemstones

Here we come to starting point in our travel in the “world of the books of gems.” Why did I mention about the authors of XIX century? — I’ll repeat, they’ve had one invaluable advantage, in comparison with us, they knew Latin and Greek languages. So, let’s start with Latin.

Latin — is a “dead language,” from one hand, however, it is an actual language, in regards to medieval knowledge about the gems, from the other hand. Furthermore, it was a transitional language between the ancients and modern languages.

It is worth noting that the first book in regards to gemstones, written in English, was “Lapidary or, The History of Pretious Stones,” written by Thomas Nicols and published in 1652. Exactly the information from this book was rewritten and published in the several subsequent books, belonging to the authors of XVII and XVIII centuries, particularly with regard to the superstitions concerning the gems, known now as the “magical” or “healing” properties of the gems. The authors of XIX century, in turn, rewrote those copies, although the genuine original, belonged to Thomas Nicols.

The book, written by Thomas Nicols became a symbolical “start point” for the subsequent “lazy” authors, who didn’t know neither Latin nor Greek language. But who was an informant of Thomas Nicols and other previous authors?

The Dark Ages and the Brave Travelers

Did you ever hear about Theophrastus, Pliny the Elder, or, at least, about Albertus Magnus or Paracelsus?

The first one lived BC, the second AD, and they both were the Greek writers. We’ll describe both of them later, whereas the second two have been the medieval authors, moreover, the alchemists, furthermore, they and many of their “medieval contemporaries” wrote about gemstones, especially about their magical and healing properties. But the best, is that we can check their works absolutely free, using Google Books, however, who of us knows Latin? — almost nobody, and, unfortunately, it really so.

What we can do? All that we can, just only find the translated versions of those treatises, thus, we could lift the veil of mystery, surrounding such subject as “the most ancient book about gemstones,” at least for a moment.

Let’s forget these authors for a while and pay our attention to the medieval travelers. Jean Baptiste Tavernier as well as Marco Polo were the famous medieval travelers, and they were so much famous, thanks to their treatises, written subsequently.

Thus, they were the first witness, who took in their hands the best specimens of gems and precious stones from the hands of the medieval monarchs, viziers, sheikhs, rajas and moguls. Exactly the evidences, provided by these travelers helped the medieval authors to write their famous treatises. But how they learned where to look for the gemstones, and who’ve directed them into the right direction? — the same question, isn’t it?

Greek Books about Gemstones

Let’s back to Theophrastus and Pliny — they were exactly those authors, who lived BC, who first told us about the gems, they also were, those authors, that have been cited by the subsequent medieval authors several times, in an attempt to unravel the enigma of origin some of the gems and, chiefly to define the origin of the names of the certain gemstones.

In regards to Pliny, he has dedicated an entire chapter of his Natural History for the gemstones, that indicates, that the ancient world was acquainted with the gemstones. Pliny provided many of the evidences of the origin of many gems, however, as we know, Pliny was just a collector of the ancient information. Many researchers claim, that Pliny is a term, under which, many of the ancient authors have been combined.

Theophrastus, in turn, was a representative of the ancient Greek school, and probably borrowed some of its information and terminology from such famous philosophers as Plato and even Pythagoras.

Nonetheless, there is one strange point, a certain discrepancy in regards to the Greek authors. How could they learn about some precious and semi-precious stones, if they’ve never seen them, due to the fact, that these stones could be found exclusively in the Oriental countries?

Oriental Books about Gemstones

I think, it is obvious (according to my opinion), that the countries, where the gemstones have been discovered first, are the “storages of knowledge” concerning the gemstones. That means, that there have to be preserved at least some evidences, that could illustrate the ancient wisdom in regards to the origin of the sources concerning the gemstones.

Unfortunately, I don’t know any of Oriental languages, moreover, I think that few of the modern writers and, all the more so, ancient writers possessed any of the Oriental languages. However, some ancient treatises, translated in English, have been preserved here. Such sources as an Indian epos Mahabharata could unveil the mystery of this subject.

Hebrew Books about Gemstones

Such source as the Bible contains the mention about the gems, that proving, that there were even older written sources about the gemstones at the both hemispheres. By the way, exactly the information, contained in the Bible, served as one of the causes to the origin of such term as the Birthstones.

I think, that the Birthstones is the term combined of the mythology, astrology, superstitions and religious sources, which subsequently has been successfully used in a successful marketing idea.

I, nonetheless, more than confident that the Jews also borrowed the information in regards to the gemstones in some degree. No, I don’t claim, that the Jews borrowed the Bible from the Oriental treatises, however, they’ve dwelled in the desert, how could they know about the gemstones?!?!?

Russian Books about Gemstones

Russian sources about gemstones are quite insufficient. Why the Russian, you ask? This is not about the politic and not about the sanctions. Russia, as well as India and America are very rich in minerals and gemstones, besides, Russia is the largest country in the world, as well.

Russia survived too many palace coups, revolutions and wars, that a plenty of books were destroyed, hence, just few books concerning gemstones have been preserved for us.

Nonetheless, the authors of XVII-XVIII and especially XIX centuries have described a lot of gemstones, obtained in Russia, especially in Siberia. Probably some of the ancient books about gemstones have been preserved in this country? Anyway, these sources could supplement our conclusions in regards to the first book, containing the information about the gemstones.

Middle East and Asia Minor Books about Gemstones

I’m not fully acquainted with the life of the Middle East, however, many authors have referred to the Persian and Assyrian sources in regards to the gems. I will not delve into the history of the Middle East, nevertheless, I’d pay your attention to two main points.

First of all, Upper Egypt was one of the sources of many precious stones, known to us. This country, more accurately, this region has been described by many writers of the different epochs, including Pliny and Theophrastus. By the way, Egypt is exactly that place, where the pyramid of Cheops and the Sphinx have been discovered, as well as the ancient language, Hermetic Philosophy and the tombs of the Pharaohs. I think that this is sufficient to assume, that it could be one of those places, where the first source, describing the gemstones, might appear. In addition, it’s worth nothing that the first papyrus has been invented exactly in Egypt, whereas the gemstones were found in the tombs of the Pharaohs.

The second point is that the Middle East hasn’t been under the influence of Islam all the time. Formerly, it was inhabited by other people, who had their own religion as well as the writing, therefore, many sources could be lost during the “Islamization of the Middle East,” as well.

Furthermore, the Middle East is close to the East, thus, it’s close to those Oriental countries, where the gemstone mines were in abundance, therefore, the gems, along with the knowledge about the gems, easily could spread from east to west, thanks to the merchants from the Middle East’s, that seems to me absolutely logical.


During my travel in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Egypt, and other Oriental countries, I’ve figured out (just for myself), that such ancient buildings as the Great Pyramids, Angkor Wat, Sigiriya, along with other fundamental ancient buildings such as the Mayan Pyramids, Teotihuacan and other megalithic structures are indeed very very old.

As regards to the Angkor Wat, it was built by the efforts of advanced civilization, for sure, just trust me, if not, check by yourself :-)

Why did I tell about the megaliths, just because they appeared at the same time with the gemstones, though, probably later. Many of gemstones were formed during volcanic eruptions millions, although, perhaps, billions years ago. Some of them are of celestial origin, such as Olivine, for instance, thus, the gemstones “settled” on the earth before the dinosaurs, before the “Noah flood,” before anything was. Hence, the science (or if you want the wisdom) about the gems has been studied since the prehistoric time, nonetheless we talked about the first book about the gems.

Gemstones are nothing but colored stones. The first inscription was made on the stone thanks to the prehistoric man, who’ve used the stone, in the cave made of stone. Some of the gemstones might illustrate their history themselves, just look at the example, presented in this blog post. Some of them, such as Alexandrite or Tanzanite, have been discovered just in our time.

I think, therefore, that the history of the gemstones was written throughout the life of all mankind, beginning with the inscription, made on the stone, using the stone, continuing with the inscription, made on the wood, using the first stone axe, ending with the modern books, therefore all the information in regards to the gemstones has been mixed, however, structured, subsequently, in process of time.

This blog post is just a beginning of my research in this subject, I hope that it initiated the further study of this subject. For the present I can just conclude, that I don’t have enough knowledge of Latin, Greek, Indian and Chines languages, say nothing of the Ancient Egyptian language. Furthermore, it just brings me closer to the solution of this mystery.

In studying any subject, the language is the clue. In the end of my first chapter of this “blog book,” I can tell one curious story.

Once, I paid a visit to Sri Lanka. One fine day, I was a guest at the “Full Moon Party,” which was organized by the locals. I asked the owner of the villa, where I was staying, to make a photo with the Buddhist monk. Later, I asked the monk, to show me his dwelling. The monk showed me his dwelling, where one book attracted my attention. I asked him — In what language the book is written? He answered — This book is written in a language, that existed before the Sanskrit! Who knows, probably there was the answer to my question :-)

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