Sierra de las Minas

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Sierra de las Minas
Relief map of Guatemala.jpg
Red triangle with thick white border.svg
Highest point
Peak Cerro Raxón (Alta Verapaz)
Elevation 3,015 m (9,892 ft)
Coordinates 15°09′47″N89°51′05″W / 15.163063°N 89.851255°W / 15.163063; -89.851255
Country Guatemala
State/Province Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz,
El Progreso Department, Zacapa, Izabal
Range coordinates 15°10′00″N89°40′00″W / 15.16667°N 89.66667°W / 15.16667; -89.66667 Coordinates: 15°10′00″N89°40′00″W / 15.16667°N 89.66667°W / 15.16667; -89.66667

Sierra de las Minas is a mountain range in eastern Guatemala, extending 130 km west of the Lake Izabal. It is 15–30 km wide and bordered by the valleys of the rivers Polochic in the north and the Motagua in the south. Its western border is marked by the Salamá River valley which separates it from the Chuacús mountain range. The highest peak is Cerro Raxón at 3,015 m. The Sierra's rich deposits of jade and marble have been mined throughout the past centuries. These small scale mining activities also explain the name of the mountain range.

Guatemala republic in Central America

Guatemala, officially the Republic of Guatemala, is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean to the northeast, Honduras to the east, El Salvador to the southeast and the Pacific Ocean to the south. With an estimated population of around 16.6 million, it is the most populated country in Central America. Guatemala is a representative democracy; its capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.

Lake Izabal lake

Lake Izabal, also known as the Golfo Dulce, is the largest lake in Guatemala with a surface area of 589.6 km² and a maximum depth is 18 m (59 ft). The Polochic River is the largest river that drains into the lake. The lake, which is only a metre above sea level, drains into the Gulf of Honduras of the Caribbean Sea through the smaller Golfete Dulce, which is at sea level, and the navigable Rio Dulce.

The Polochic River is a 194-kilometre (121 mi) long river in eastern Guatemala. It flows eastwards through a deep valley and flows into Lake Izabal at 15.46667°N 89.36667°W. The river is navigable for 30 kilometres (19 mi) to Panzós. It was used many years ago to transport coffee and timber, but most commercial transport in the river valley is now carried out by truck.


The range has several different habitats, including Mesoamerica's largest cloud forests, and is home to a great variety of wildlife. A large part of the Sierra de las Minas was declared a biosphere reserve in 1990.

Habitat ecological or environmental area inhabited by a particular species; natural environment in which an organism lives, or the physical environment that surrounds a species population

In ecology, a habitat is the type of natural environment in which a particular species of organism lives. It is characterized by both physical and biological features. A species' habitat is those places where it can find food, shelter, protection and mates for reproduction.

Cloud forest rainforest

A cloud forest, also called a water forest and primas forest, is a generally tropical or subtropical, evergreen, montane, moist forest characterized by a persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover, usually at the canopy level, formally described in the International Cloud Atlas (2017) as silvagenitus. Cloud forests often exhibit an abundance of mosses covering the ground and vegetation, in which case they are also referred to as mossy forests. Mossy forests usually develop on the saddles of mountains, where moisture introduced by settling clouds is more effectively retained.

Biosphere reserve

Sierra de las Minas
biosphere reserve
Margaykat Leopardus wiedii.jpg
The reserve has a significant Margay population
Country Guatemala
Region Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz,
El Progreso Department, Zacapa, Izabal
Highest point Cerro Raxón
 - elevation 3,015 m (9,892 ft)
Lowest point
 - elevation 150 m (492 ft)
Area 2,408 km2 (930 sq mi)
Biome Subtropical thorn forest
Premontane dry subtropical forest
Premontane tropical wet forest
Lower montane subtropical moist forest
Cloud forest
IUCN category VI - Managed Resource Protected Area
Website: Defensores de la Naturaleza

In 1990, a substantial part of the Sierra de las Minas (2,408.03 km2 or 929.75 sq mi, including buffer zones and transition areas) was designated a biosphere reserve. [1]

Habitats and land cover types

Due to its size and great variety in elevation and precipitation, the range has many different habitats and land cover types, including: [2]

Deserts and xeric shrublands biome defined by the World Wildlife Fund

Deserts and xeric shrublands are a habitat type defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature. Deserts and xeric shrublands form the largest terrestrial biome, covering 19% of Earth's land surface area.

The Motagua Valley thornscrub is one of the ecoregions that belong to the deserts and xeric shrublands biome, as defined by the World Wildlife Fund. The ecoregion is located in the Motagua valley in eastern Guatemala, and covers an area of 2330 km2.

Cactus family of mostly succulent plants, adapted to dry environments

A cactus is a member of the plant family Cactaceae, a family comprising about 127 genera with some 1750 known species of the order Caryophyllales. The word "cactus" derives, through Latin, from the Ancient Greek κάκτος, kaktos, a name originally used by Theophrastus for a spiny plant whose identity is not certain. Cacti occur in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Most cacti live in habitats subject to at least some drought. Many live in extremely dry environments, even being found in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth. Cacti show many adaptations to conserve water. Almost all cacti are succulents, meaning they have thickened, fleshy parts adapted to store water. Unlike many other succulents, the stem is the only part of most cacti where this vital process takes place. Most species of cacti have lost true leaves, retaining only spines, which are highly modified leaves. As well as defending against herbivores, spines help prevent water loss by reducing air flow close to the cactus and providing some shade. In the absence of leaves, enlarged stems carry out photosynthesis. Cacti are native to the Americas, ranging from Patagonia in the south to parts of western Canada in the north—except for Rhipsalis baccifera, which also grows in Africa and Sri Lanka.


The reserve has 885 species, about 70% of all species found in Guatemala and Belize, including threatened birds like the resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) and horned guan (Oreophasis derbianus).

Resplendent quetzal species of bird

The resplendent quetzal is a bird in the trogon family. It is found from Chiapas, Mexico to western Panama. It is well known for its colorful plumage. There are two subspecies, P. m. mocinno and P. m. costaricensis.

Harpy eagle species of bird

The harpy eagle is a neotropical species of eagle. It is also called the American harpy eagle to distinguish it from the Papuan eagle, which is sometimes known as the New Guinea harpy eagle or Papuan harpy eagle. It is the largest and most powerful raptor found in the rainforest, and among the largest extant species of eagles in the world. It usually inhabits tropical lowland rainforests in the upper (emergent) canopy layer. Destruction of its natural habitat has caused it to vanish from many parts of its former range, and it is nearly extirpated in Central America. In Brazil, the harpy eagle is also known as royal-hawk.

Horned guan species of bird

The horned guan is a large, approximately 85 cm long, turkey-like bird with glossed black upperparts plumage, red legs, white iris, yellow bill and a red horn on top of head. The breast and upper belly are white, and its long tail feathers are black with white band near base. Both sexes are similar. The young is duller with smaller horn, and has brown tail and wings.

Felines with a significant presence are the Jaguar (Panthera onca), Cougar (Felis concolor), Onza (Puma yagouaroundi), Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and Margay (Leopardus wiedii).

Other mammals in the reserve include the red brocket (Mazama americana), the Guatemalan black howler (Alouatta pigra) and Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii). [3]

Jade Reserve

The southern area of Sierra de la Minas (translated in Spanish as the 'Mountain Range of the Mines’) is also known for its rich deposits of jadeite, (one of the two forms of jade) marble, serpentine, and other minerals. Smaller jadeite deposits have been rediscovered sporadically in the last 50 years, but it wasn’t until 1998 that a major source was identified. [4]

Jadeite is found all over the world, in countries such as Myanmar, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Russia, British Columbia, United States, and Turkestan. The other form, nephrite, is much more common, but of much less value. Blue jadeite is similar in structure to the different colors of jadeite; it is the trace elements found in the minerals that contribute to their color. The blue jadeite, for example, is known to have traces of titanium and iron. Jadeite and nephrite artifacts found in the new world were at one point thought to have been from Asia.

The region of Sierra de Las minas, along with the Motagua river valley, was used by older pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Olmec and Maya as a source of jadeite. The jadeite was used for different purposes, such as for ritual objects and adornments. Because of their location between Mexico and Central America, the Maya became an important influence in Mesoamerican trade. Jadeite became an important export for the Maya, along with serpentine, salt and cacao. It was assumed that these cultures amassed all of their jade from the Motagua River valley, the then only known source of jadeite, in central Guatemala near El Portón.


Because jade was not desired in the colonial period, sources of the stone were forgotten. Since the 1950s, jadeite was thought to be in the region, as no other source for Olmec jade was recognized. It was not until 1999 when geophysicist Russell Seitz found and reported the site that the extent of these deposits was known. Several influences in the United States spurred the search for this jade. Boston jade collector Landon T. Clay was one of the first individuals to sponsor the search for jade in the region. The Mesoamerican Jade Project of 1976 was initiated by the Peabody Museum of Harvard University and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, to resolve the question of the jade's location. Geophysicist Russell Seitz of Cambridge, Massachusetts was chosen to be the field director of the project. However, the resulting trips remained mostly unsuccessful due to the lack of proper technology and the harsh conditions of the wild Guatemalan forests.

It was not until the 180 mph winds of Hurricane Mitch stormed the region in 1998 that jadeite was again uncovered in the area. The storm unearthed previously unknown alluvial deposits of jadeite by flooding the Motagua River thirty-one feet past the flood stage. Other rivers such as the Rio El Tambor also began unveiling alluvial jade. Although the worth of this jade was fairly low (the more intense the green of the jade the more it is worth), prospectors and local shop owners began collecting shards found in the beds of these rivers. In 1999, Russell Seitz happened to be in one of these local jade shops in the town of Antigua when he noticed a large hand-sized sample of the rare blue-jadeite.

In 2000, Seitz started an expedition with prospector Carlos Gonzales Ramirez to find the source of the elusive jadeite. They traveled to El Ciprés, located in Sierra de Las Minas, miles north of the Motagua river valley. They trekked into the mountains and eventually found large veins of jadeite about 2 meters wide by 45 meters long. A site with jade boulders as big as buses was discovered, along with evidence that the site had been worked on for thousands of years. [5]

When Seitz returned to the United States with a few samples, he had them tested and they were confirmed as high quality jadeite. This spurred more researchers to join him in his study of this site. The find was announced in a brief article written by Seitz for the December 2001 issue of Antiquity.

The archaeological connotation of the find was significant. The influence of the Olmecs was understood to be more spread than previously believed. Also found at the site was an ancient dry-stone pathway that led through the mountains to an old habitation and tomb site, filled with the remains of old clay shards. This road has expanded the preconceived size of the Olmecs' trade routes. It is still debatable as to why exactly this large cache of jadeite is still mostly intact. The Maya were known to use the green form of the jadeite for their carvings. And because the Spanish only sought the gold, the Olmecs would have had all the blue jadeite to themselves.

The Motagua valley is another source of jade in the area. The town of Río Hondo and its surrounding areas have yielded finds such as the "princesa" variety of jadeite. This valuable type of jadeite contains a translucent rich-green color. In 1996 prospector Carlos Gonzalez began searching the area for jade. He discovered a 140 lb boulder of jadeite that had a translucent, light blue color. The 7 km area from La Ceiba to Carrizal Grand contained similar Omec jade artifacts. Gonzales and colleagues discovered more examples in the southern tributaries of the Rio El Tambor located near Carrizal Grande and San José. In January 2002 they were led to the locality of Quebrada Seca, where they were shown a jade boulder that weighed in excess of 300 tons. Other archeologists such as François Gendron of France and Dr. Richard Mandell of the University of South Carolina began unearthing more samples of jadeite in the region. Gendron discovered a jadeite sample with a composition suggesting it was formed 80 to 90 km underground, much more than the expected 20 km, around which jadeite is usually known to form.

Related Research Articles

Jade Ornamental stone, commonly green

Jade refers to an ornamental mineral, mostly known for its green varieties. It can refer to either of two different minerals: nephrite, a silicate of calcium and magnesium, or jadeite, a silicate of sodium and aluminium.

Quiché Department Department in Guatemala

Quiché is a department of Guatemala.

Zacapa Department Department in Zacapa, Guatemala

Zacapa is one of the 22 departments of Guatemala. It lies in eastern Guatemala with its capital in the city of Zacapa, approximately 112 kilometers from Guatemala City.

Jadeite pyroxene mineral

Jadeite is a pyroxene mineral with composition NaAlSi2O6. It is monoclinic. It has a Mohs hardness of about 6.5 to 7.0 depending on the composition. The mineral is dense, with a specific gravity of about 3.4.

Motagua River river in Guatemala

The Motagua River is a 486-kilometre (302 mi) long river in Guatemala. It rises in the western highlands of Guatemala where it is also called Río Grande, and runs in an easterly direction to the Gulf of Honduras. The final few kilometres of the river form part of the Guatemala/Honduras border. The Motagua River basin covers an area of 12,670 square kilometres (4,890 sq mi) and is the largest in Guatemala.

Jade use in Mesoamerica

The use of jade in Mesoamerica for symbolic and ideological ritual was highly influenced by its rarity and value among pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, such as the Olmec, the Maya, and the various groups in the Valley of Mexico. Although jade artifacts have been created and prized by many Mesoamerican peoples, the Motagua River valley in Guatemala was previously thought to be the sole source of jadeite in the region.

Sierra de los Tuxtlas mountain range

The Sierra de Los Tuxtlas are a volcanic belt and mountain range along the southeastern Veracruz Gulf coast in Eastern Mexico. The Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve includes the coastal and higher elevations of the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas.

Maya Biosphere Reserve

The Maya Biosphere Reserve is a nature reserve in Guatemala managed by Guatemala's National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP). The Maya Biosphere Reserve covers an area of 21,602 km2.

Trade in Maya civilization transfer of ownership of goods and services

Trade in Maya civilization was a crucial factor in renaming Maya cities.

Costa Rican jade tradition

Jadeite is presumed one of the most precious materials of Pre-Columbian Costa Rica. It, along with other similar looking greenstones were cherished and worked for years. Jadeite was used to decorate the body and was presumably a symbol of power.

Jadeitite A metamorphic rock found in blueschist-grade metamorphic terranes

Jadeitite is a metamorphic rock found in blueschist-grade metamorphic terranes. It is found in isolated metasomatically altered rock units within serpentinite associated with subduction zone environments. Jadeitite consists almost entirely of the pyroxene mineral jadeite and is typically mined as a source of the ornamental rock or gemstone, jade. Occurrences include Myanmar, Guatemala, Japan, Kazakhstan and in the Coast Ranges of western North America.

Petén-Veracruz moist forests

The Petén-Veracruz moist forests ecoregion, of the Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forest Biome, is found in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Guatemalan Highlands upland region in southern Guatemala, lying between the Sierra Madre de Chiapas to the south and the Petén lowlands to the north; made up of a series of high valleys enclosed by mountains

The Guatemalan Highlands is an upland region in southern Guatemala, lying between the Sierra Madre de Chiapas to the south and the Petén lowlands to the north. The highlands are made up of a series of high valleys enclosed by mountains. The local name for the region is Altos, meaning "highlands", which includes the northern declivity of the Sierra Madre. The mean elevation is greatest in the west and least in the east. A few of the streams of the Pacific slope actually rise in the highlands, and force a way through the Sierra Madre at the bottom of deep ravines. One large river, the Chixoy or Salinas River, escapes northwards towards the Gulf of Mexico. The relief of the mountainous country which lies north of the Highlands and drains into the Atlantic is varied by innumerable terraces, ridges and underfalls; but its general configuration is compared by E. Reclus with the appearance of "a stormy sea breaking into parallel billows". The parallel ranges extend east and west with a slight southerly curve towards their centres. A range called the Sierra de Chamá, which, however, changes its name frequently from place to place, strikes eastward towards Belize, and is connected by low hills with the Cockscomb Mountains; another similar range, the Sierra de Santa Cruz, continues east to Cape Cocoli between the Polochic and the Sarstoon; and a third, the Sierra de las Minas or, in its eastern portion, Sierra del Mico, stretches between the Polochic and the Motagua rivers. Between Honduras and Guatemala, the frontier is formed by the Sierra de Merendón.

The Sierra de Chuacús is situated in the central highlands of Guatemala, and runs southeast from El Quiché to Baja Verapaz. Its northwestern border is marked by the Chixoy River basin in Uspantán, which separates it from the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes. Its eastern border is marked by the Salamá River which separates it from the Sierra de las Minas. Its southeastern border is defined by the Motagua River valley.

Biosphere reserves in Guatemala include:

Consejo Nacional de Areas Protegidas

The National Council for Protected Areas is the government agency of that has as its mission the conservation and the sustainable use of the biological diversity and protected areas of Guatemala. CONAP was created by Decree 4-89, or the Law of Protected Areas gave jurisdiction to over the System of Protected Areas of Guatemala, which is the conglomeration of all protected areas, and those under special protection in the country.

Economy is conventionally defined as a function for production and distribution of goods and services by multiple agents within a society and/or geographical area. An economy is hierarchical, made up of individuals that aggregate to make larger organizations such as governments and gives value to goods and services. The Maya economy had no universal form of trade exchange other than resources and services that could be provided among groups such as cacao beans and copper bells. Though there is limited archeological evidence to study the trade of perishable goods, it is noteworthy to explore the trade networks of artifacts and other luxury items that were likely transported together.

Mary Lou Ridinger was born in Ft. Worth TX in 1945. She holds a B.A. in Latin American Studies from The University of Colorado at Boulder and an M.A. in Archaeology from the University of the Americas After her graduate studies, Ridinger lived in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and worked on a number of archeological digs in the country, including the excavation preceding the construction of Mexico City's subway system. She is known for her discovery of the in-situ jade quarry sites in Guatemala that had been lost since the time of the Spanish Conquest of the Americas.

Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve

The Tehuacán-Cuicatlán biosphere reserve is a protected natural area located in southeastern Mexico. Its name derives from its two main locations: Cuicatlán and Tehuacán, in the latter are their administrative offices, covers 490,186 hectares distributed among 21 municipalities in the state of Puebla and Oaxaca.


  1. CONAP. "Listado de Áreas Protegidas (enero, 2011)" (in Spanish). Archived from the original (xls) on 2011-10-08. Retrieved 2011-06-14.
  2. UNESCO. "MAB Biospheres Reserves Directory: Guatemala – Sierra de las Minas" . Retrieved 2008.Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  3. IUCN. "IUCN – Red List of Threatened Species" . Retrieved 2008.Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  4. William J. Broad (May 22, 2002). "In Guatemala, a Rhode Island-Size Jade Lode". The New York Times. Retrieved 2002.Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  5. Karl, Taube. Olmec Art at Dumbarton Oaks. 1st. 2. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2004. Print.