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The Cerrillos Turquoise Mines are Ancestral Puebloan turquoise mines located in the Cerrillos Hills, 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Sante Fe, New Mexico. Archaeologists believe that most of the turquoise found at Chaco Canyon was mined in the Cerrillos Hills.
They obtained the turquoise from mines in the Cerrillos and Burro Mountains. Larger pieces of turquoise were worked with rough stone tools. Turquoise beads were ground from these larger pieces and holes drilled in the beads so that they could be strung together. Green and blue turquoise beads have been found in ancient graves of the pre-historic Pueblo people indicating both the spiritual nature and value associated with this mineral. However, without the ability to drill holes in the turquoise, beads would not have become a favored adornment nor a valued trade item. The drilling of holes allowed the beads to be used in necklaces, bracelets, earrings, ceremonial costumes and religious images. Initially Native American miners simply gathered loose turquoise from the surface or chipped it from outcrops. When that surface material was exhausted, they turned to digging open pits. Later, they followed rich veins underground, driving narrow, twisting drifts using only crude stone hammers and the heat of fires to crack the solid rock.
The extent of prehistoric mining at Mount Chalchihuitl, the main mine, is remarkable. Over seven centuries, native American miners quarried out the entire west side of the hill, removing many thousands of tons of rock over a 10-acre area. The main portion of the central pit, which was carved from solid rock, measures 130 feet deep and more than 200 feet across.
How much turquoise was mined at Mount Chalchihuitl will never be known, but the quantity was certainly large enough to make it a major trade commodity. Much was traded to the Chaco Canyon culture in northwestern New Mexico, which developed rapidly between 1150 and 1280 AD, largely because of prosperity from the turquoise trade. Chaco Canyon craftsmen worked huge quantities of Cerrillos turquoise into beads and pendants. The Chaco Canyon culture traded most of its worked turquoise, but still retained large quantities for its own use. Archaeological excavations at Chaco Canyon during the early 1900’s recovered more than 50,000 drilled and polished beads and hundreds of pendants, some as long as 3 inches.