Rhodolite garnet: Gemstones like one on The Curse of Oak Island were once worn by pharaohs

Rhodolite garnet and brooch on The Curse of Oak Island
The rhodolite garnet and the rest of the brooch discovered earlier in the season on The Curse of Oak Island

The gemstone found on The Curse of Oak Island has been revealed as a rhodolite garnet — believed to be at least 400 to 500 years old.

But where are rhodolite garnets from and what is their history?

Rhodolite garnets like the one found on Oak Island are typically a raspberry color, though some can also have a purplish tinge to them.

The name is related to the color and comes from the rhododendron flower that is native to where they were first found, and this in turn comes from the Greek ‘rhodon’ which means rose colored.

Garnets in general are also believed to be named for their color. The word is thought to have come from either the Middle English word gernet, meaning dark red, or the Latin word granatus, meaning grain, which is thought could be a reference to the pomegranate fruit and its red jewel-like seeds.

How are garnets formed?

Garnets are found in metamorphosed rocks and in some igneous rocks, being formed under very high temperatures and pressures. They are sometimes used by geologists to work out what pressures and heat a rock formation has been subjected to in the past.

The history and mythology of garnets

Antique hairpin set with Bohemian pyrope garnets
A Victorian hairpin set with pyrope garnets from Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) as seen in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Credit: Chip Clark/Smithsonian Institution

Garnets were very popular with both the ancient Egyptians and the Romans. There are examples of pharoahs wearing garnet necklaces and the Romans traded them extensively, often using them in rings where they could be used to mark wax seals.

The Greeks also thought they could protect children from drowning and the famous philosopher Plato had his portrait carved on to the surface of one.

The stones also feature in many religious texts, with the Old Testemant saying that Noah navigated his Ark using garnets and other precious stones.

Hebrew tradition has it that a garnet was one of the gems set into Aaron’s breastplate and later some Christians saw it as representing Christ’s blood on the Cross. The Qur’an also mentions the stones in respect of the Seven Heavens, with the sixth heaven being said to be composed of garnets and rubies, with the prophet Moses residing in it.

During the medieval period it was thought that garnets had healing powers and that they could help with mental illness, hemorrhages and liver problems.

Many of these stories fed into later superstitions and customs, with people undertaking long journeys or exploring taking along a garnet as a lucky or protective charm.

Where are rhodolite garnets found?

Photo of the various types of garnets
Photo of the various types of garnets, showing just how wide the color range is

The rhodolite garnet is a recent addition to the gemstone family and was first officially discovered by mineralogist William Earl Hidden, who found a deposit in North Carolina in the late 19th century.

Since then they have been found in Tanzania, Sri Lanka, India, China, Kenya, Brazil, Burma and Zimbabwe. However, some sources claim that they have actually been around a lot longer, having been exported from Sri Lanka for centuries — long before Hidden’s discovery.

The finished stones are typically facetted to bring out their lustrous sparkle and usually do not require any artificial enhancements. It is worth pointing out that rhodolite is not an official term but instead is just the name used when describing this color of garnet.

They are also hard, with a hardness of 7 – 7.5 on the Mohs scale, and also have a very high refractive index, which means they really shine brilliantly regardless of the lighting.

The very bright red color comes from the presence of both iron and chromium. In fact, strong magnets can be used to identify garnets due to the iron content.

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