Book Review: Stone of Kings

 “Stone of Kings: In Search of the Lost Jade of the Maya” by Gerard Helferich

Jade has been considered a precious material since ancient times, often reserved for royal use only, and has been particularly well documented in Asia. But archaeologists in Central America have uncovered numerous jade artifacts, beautifully carved, yet no one knew where this jade came from. Some people speculated that the Chinese brought it. Others say that it came from citizens of the lost city of Atlantis. Still others believed that it had to have come from local sources. But no one could say for certain because, shortly after the Spanish conquest of Central America, the secrets of  jade were forgotten, lost in time. But that didn’t stop people from wondering where it came from, and it didn’t stop them from searching for it either.

I like that this book not only covers a rather obscure topic, but that it has a little something for everyone: adventure, archaeology, geology, history, politics, biography. It has a brief history of the Olmec and Maya peoples, and of Guatemala. There are descriptions of archaeological finds and artifacts. Want to know the difference between jadeite jade and nephrite jade? How jade is formed in the earth? Or how jade is carved? You’ll find the answers here. There is a brief, but interesting, talk about how the Mayans used numbers and recorded time (it’s complicated!). The book touches briefly on metaphysical and medicinal uses of jade, particularly in ancient times. Not only do you read about the people searching for the lost jade, you get little mini biographies of them too.

I only have two complaints with this book. In a few areas, it did get a little draggy to me. Luckily, those parts didn’t last too long! And, my main complaint is that there were not enough pictures, especially of the jade! Don’t get me wrong, I’m interested in seeing photos of the people I’m reading about. But let’s face it, if you’re reading this book, it’s most likely because you are interested in jade, so it’s a pretty safe assumption that you expect to see some, right? Unfortunately, you’re not going to see much here.

That said, I still found it to be a very interesting book, with many fascinating little tidbits to be found throughout. So, if you’re interested jade, or any of the subjects I mentioned above, I think you’ll want to give this book a try…

In the following links, you can see some examples of Mesoamerican jade artifacts. Because after reading this, I really wanted to see some!

Met Museum Jade in Mesoamerica
 Mesoamerican Jade at Authentic Maya

Also, in my search for photos of jade, I discovered the website/online store for the jade company that Mary Lou & Jay Ridinger founded – several chapters in “Stone of Kings” are dedicated to their story and discoveries, so I think it’s worth sharing here. Their company is called Jade Maya .


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