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Earth Notes: Homol’ovi Turquoise

Six bright pieces of turquoise
Melissa Sevigny
/
KNAU

Archaeologists are using advances in technology to analyze fragments of turquoise found at the ancestral Hopi villages of Homol’ovi. Working with the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, they’re revealing the story of the origins of these beautiful blue-green stones.

The villages of Homol’ovi are located just outside the city limits of Winslow, Arizona, along the banks of the Little Colorado River. They were occupied for over 2 centuries, until the residents migrated north to join relatives living on the Hopi Mesas.

Over the past century, looters ravaged the long-buried remains of Homol’ovi, illegally digging for artifacts to sell on the antiquities black market. Using shovels, pick-axes, and bulldozers, they left behind a scarred landscape. Many of the looted items are forever lost. But a handful can be found in various repositories and museums…. including turquoise made into jewelry, such as beads and pendants, and small inlay pieces used in mosaic designs.

Archeologists can measure certain metallic elements within turquoise samples to identify their geochemical fingerprints and trace them back to known turquoise sources throughout the Southwest. Using this method, they connected turquoise from Homol’ovi to the Cerrillos Mines near Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Canyon Creek Mines in east-central Arizona.

Tracing the movement of turquoise indicates long-distance trade networks that existed between Homol’ovi and communities hundreds of miles away. For Hopi people, this research underscores the appreciation their ancestors held for this blue-green stone: A symbol of sky and water, carried across the dry, desert landscapes of Hopi Tutskwa, the Ancestral Hopi homelands.

This Earth Note was written by Lyle Balenquah and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.

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Lyle Balenquah, Hopi, is a member of the Greasewood Clan from the Village of Paaqavi ("Reed Springs Place") on Third Mesa, located in northeastern Arizona. He currently works as an archaeologist, as well as a river and hiking guide across the Four Corners region. Through his work he advocates for the protection and preservation of ancestral landscapes, combining his professional training with personal experiences and insights about Hopi culture and history.
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