This chapter discusses Colombia's emeralds, and how they were relatively obscure even though they were infused with meaning long before they went global. It is only after the arrival of Europeans in the Americas that we came to know much about them. A close reader of Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, for whom Colombia was named, died believing he was close to Cipango, or Japan. Columbus touched on a small portion of Venezuela's coast in 1498, where he found the predicted pearls, but it was not until 1499, during the first voyage of Alonso de Hojeda, that sustained contact with indigenous peoples in what is today Colombia began. While trading for pearls, Hojeda met briefly with native inhabitants of the Guajira Peninsula, from whom he received some green stones. These may have been the first genuine New World emeralds handled by Europeans, but it is just as likely they were a more common variety of greenstone beads found by archaeologists in the region today.
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