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Hunting for Jade

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George Harlow

I travel all over the world to study jade, particularly jadeite rock. Here's a look at two of the places where jade is found: Guatemala and Myanmar.

The Mystery of Mesoamerican Jade

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scrapbook page with pictures of George Harlow in the field in mesoamerica and some jade artifacts
climbing up mountainside looking for jade

in Guatemala

Guatemala is a fabulous place to hunt for Jade. To find a jade site, we traveled through forest, climbed up steep mountainsides, and crossed rivers.

carved jade artifacts

artifacts

These are amazing jade carvings found in Mesoamerica, a region made up of Central and Southern Mexico and parts of Central America. Since the 18th century, no one knew where the jade came from. It was a big mystery!

new jade pieces found with similar qualities to Olmec artifacts

It's a match

I was thunderstruck at our incredible discovery! The new jades were more translucent. Some even looked like the rare translucent blue and blue-green with the white spots, like the jade of Olmec artifacts.

George Harlow standing on large jade boulder in Guatemala in 1984

standing on jade boulder

I began searching for jade in Guatemala in 1984. We explored north of the Motagua River and found jade in an area about 20 kilometers (12 miles) long. This the largest block we found at that time: a piece of some 30 tons, as heavy as five elephants!

mountainside after a landslide caused by hurricane with newly exposed jade deposits

after the hurricane

In 1999, a devastating hurricane hit Central America, causing landslides and exposing new earth. Soon after, we learned that local expert jade hunters, called jaderos, found new areas of jade.

George Harlow between large boulders that have some jade

finding more jade

With help from the jaderos, or local jade hunters, we kept finding more and more jade in little areas on both sides of the river. As of now, these little deposits span over the area of 100 kilometers (62 miles) wide, as big as Rhode Island.

Image Credits:

all field photos: courtesy of George Harlow and colleagues (Virginia B. Sisson, Sorena S. Sorensen, Hans G. Avà Lallemant, Carlos Gonzales, Russell Seitz, Mauricio Chiquin Yoj, Thomas W. Donnelly, E. Peter Olds, Robert Kane, Han Htun, Myint Soe, Dr. Saw Nawn U, and George R. Rossman) raw jade and artifact match: courtesy of George Harlow and colleagues; two artifacts: courtesy of AMNH, Denis Finnin