Ancient Gems and MineralsThe oldest known jewels are amber, nephrite, garnet, rock crystal, amethyst, serpentine and emerald. Others may have been used, but not yet found in archaeological excavations.
Cylindrical seals (which worked by rolling them along in soft clay, to sign your name) from Babylon and elsewhere were made from soft varieties of soapstone or steatite, serpentine and marble. Soapstone is very soft and easy to carve. Later lapis lazuli, hematite, amazonite, jasper and rock crystal were used. This suggests that they increasingly used attractive stones for their seals rather than just functional ones.
The Egyptians carved from carnelian, chalcedony, green jasper, lapis lazuli, amazonite, amethyst, turquoise, emerald and ruby. Greeks and Romans carved figures from amethyst, rock crystal, carnelian and jasper.
The 2nd century tomb of the king of Nanyue, in Soutern China had a bronze pestle and mortar, and the following minerals: sulfur, realgar, purple cyrstal (looked like amethyst), red ochre and turquoise. The Chinese believed that if these were ground up and heated in water, they created an elexir to enhance long life and immortality.
Most minerals have names that come from Latin or Greek. Some of these are ancient names, but others were given these names in modern times. Other minerals come from different langauges, some very old.
Cassiterite comes from the Babylonian. It is a tin ore, and tin was an extremely important ancient metal.
Corundum (sapphires and rubies) is a Tamil word, from Southern India.
Tourmaline comes from a Sinhalese word, in Sri Lanka.
Stibnite, an ore of Antimony is derived from an Egyptian word.
Talc is Persian.
Opal may be Sanscrit, the ancient Indo-European language.
Jasper comes from Assyrian.
However, in ancient times some of these words may have referred to different minerals.