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Jade is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of gemstones, but the only pure forms of jade are jadeite and nephrite. The history of jade goes back several thousand years when jade was first used to make weapons and tools because of its toughness. The Mayans and Aztecs regarded jade highly and the name "jade" originates from the Spanish "piedra de ijada", meaning "stone for the pain in the side". It was named in this way after Spanish explorers saw natives of Central America holding pieces of jade to their sides, believing that it could cure ills. The Chinese refer to jade as "yu", which means "heavenly" or "imperial". Therefore, it is considered to be the imperial gem in Chinese culture. In China, jade was found in the tombs of Shang kings.
Jade also plays a part in the history of New Zealand. It is found on the South Island and has been treasured for many years by the Maoris of New Zealand, who call it "pounamu", "greenstone" or "New Zealand jade". Pounamu has been made into Maori tools, such as chisels and fish hooks, and weapons, such as short clubs and ornaments. This New Zealand jade is usually nephrite. Spinach-green nephrite from the Lake Baikal region of Russia is known as "Russian jade". Jadeite is the rarer of the two varieties of jade, and as a result it is more precious. The most valuable variety of jade is a striking and even emerald green jadeite, known as "imperial jade".