Malachite is not just a modern ornamental stone. The Greeks and Romans used it to make amulets which, as they believed, were able to protect people, especially children, from various misfortunes. Malachite was also found by ancient miners in copper mines, where it occurred in the form of vivid green coatings, which at first were called ‘rock green only later was it given its present name. However, malachite has also had other names, such as ‘the velvet ore’ or ‘the satin ore’.
It has always provided evidence for the presence of rich copper deposits. Owing to its unusual, plant-like appearance, the Greeks named it malakhe after a variety of herb. It is one of the oldest cosmetics known to man and was used as long ago as the fourth millennium BC by Egyptian women, who enhanced their eyes with a blend of powdered malachite and red ochre. During the Middle Ages, it was reputed to have medicinal properties and was used, among other things, to treat colic and as a powerful emetic. It is also said that wearing malachite prevents lightening from striking and brings restorative sleep by banishing nocturnal demons.
Malachite is the most common product of the weathering of copper and the ores of copper. It is abundantly present in the upper layers of all the deposits of copper ores. Apart from the surface covers, malachite commonly forms fine fibrous layers with a reniform surface or powdery efflorescence. In cavities it occurs exceptionally in the form of needle-shaped crystals. The best known deposits of the mineral are in extensive regions of the Urals, especially in the vicinity of Gumeshevsk, Bogoslovsk and Nizhni Tagil (Russia). The biggest malachite boulder, found at Gumeshevsk, weighed 60 tonnes. Other large deposits are in Zaire and at Tsumeb in Namibia, where it occurs with azurite. Azurite also accompanies malachite at other deposits, including Bisbee in Arizona (USA), Burraburra in Australia, Baita in Romania and Bertzdorf in Germany. The most recent deposit of malachite with an admixture of azurite is at Eilat in Israel; it is possible that this newly discovered deposit is a forgotten mine of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Malachite is both an ornamental stone and a valuable ore, containing approximately 57 per cent copper. The most beautiful specimens of worked malachite can be seen in the Winter Palace (`Hermitage’) in St. Peterburg, Russia.