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Natural agate cabochons

History and origin

The term agate refers only to the translucent type of chalcedony in which the colour is distributed in curved bands or layers.
Agate is formed when circulating ground waters approaching saturation in silica content fill a cavity in a host rock or dissolve pre-existing material such as bone or shell. As a result, agate is often found in the shape of round nodules, with concentric bands like the rings of a tree trunk. With the art of lapidaries, sometimes these bands look like eyes, shells or even like sceneries with trees or branches.
The name agate comes, through the Latin, from a Greek word designating the river "Achates", today called "Cirilo", in the province of Ragusa in Sicily where this mineral has been found back then in important quantities.
Objects in agate from the Neolithic era were found and the Sumerians might have been the first ones to use agate to make seals, necklaces, signet rings and other jewellery sets. The famous collection of four thousand agate bowls, which was accumulated by Mithridates, king of Pontus, shows the enthusiasm with which agate was regarded in the Antiquity.
Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History, mentioned the Agate of Pyrrhus, a polished chalcedony in which bands formed a pattern representing Apollo playing the lyre.
Cups in agate were also very trendy during the Byzantine era and collecting them became quite common in the European nobleness of the Renaissance. Various museums of Europe kept some amazing artworks of them.

Myths and facts

The Sumerians used agate by wearing it with other stones around the neck and wrist to conjure the curses of Goddess Lamashtu threatening the new-born children. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, it has been said that in the garden of the Gods, dewdrops were agates…
The Celts associated it to Ceridwen or Kerridwen, Goddess of death and fertility.
In ancient China, it was believed that agate came from the brain of a fossilized horse. It was also supposed to come from the recrystallisation of spilled blood during the era of the Yellow Emperor (2500-2600 BC). Agate was highly revered at least since the Han Dynasty of East China (25-220 BC) where its tints of red were extremely appreciated.
The moss agate variety was then also very coveted with its dendrites of manganese which reconstituted sceneries, plants or human forms.
Everywhere, it has been sold, offered, pledged and even taxed at 5% in the French Kingdom under the reign of King Louis XIV (1638-1715).
Agate is one of the first materials known to man. According to legends it makes the wearer agreeable and persuasive, to cure insomnia and give its owner pleasant dreams.
Today, it is in the Islamic world that the greatest myths associated to the agate, survive the best. The Persians, Arabians and other nations from the Orient use the agate mainly in signet rings set in silver on which is engraved a Koranic verse, the name of the stone owner, some symbols or magic formula supposed to protect the owner from a great variety of calamities among which scorpion sting, thirst, pneumonia and could even improve his sight.

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