By: A. Basel
As Egypt is the cradle of civilization, no doubt that it is also the cradle of the arts and the home of craftsmanship. Personal ornaments appear to have been among the very first objects on which the invention and ingenuity of man were exercised. In the beginning, natural objects, such as small shells, dried berries, small perforated stones, feathers of variegated colors, were combined by stringing or tying together to ornament the head, neck, arms and legs, the fingers, and even the toes.
The earliest examples of Egyptian jewelry which have come down to us are those of the Pre dynastic period (more than 3000 years B.C.), where the Egyptians had been making beads and ornaments of semi precious stones such as amethyst, lapis lazuli, cornelian, Quartz, Garnet, Turquoise , and other objects. They also used man made materials such as glazed objects and colored glass imitating semi precious stones. Most of the materials used in making these beads were chosen for their color symbolization or amulet significance especially the ones used in making funerary jewelry, as they had a religious and magical significance in the Egyptian ancient world by protecting the wearer from evil. Turquoise for example was a symbol of fertility, good luck, and as protection from the evil eye.
So as it appears, ancient Egyptians wore various shapes and kinds of jewelry, some of which are:
Bracelets and Bangles: these ornaments often came in matching sets. Ancient Egyptians also used the same term for describing anklets.
Finger rings: its earliest form was as simple as rings made of stone. Later, rings were made of small strings of beads, gold-foil bands and wires of copper or silver closed by twisting the ends together.
Amulets of semi-precious stones: these were charms worn by the living or placed on a mummy to ward off evil spirits or bring good luck.
Cartouches: These were elliptical symbols encircling the inscribed birth and coronation names of the king. They were usually worn as pendants.
Pectorals: These are large pieces of jewelry, usually in the form of trapezoids, worn on the chest.
Necklaces: These were widely used among wealthy people, and were usually made of precious metals such as gold and silver, and decorated with colored glass beads and semi-precious stones.
Earrings: Theses were worn by both men and women.
Crowns: These were reserved for royalty. They were made of gold or silver and decorated with semi-precious stones.
Belts: These included waist belts and belts with hanging vertical straps ornamented with colored beads. They were usually found in tombs.
Vests: This kind of jewelry is only found in ancient Egyptian jewelry. It was worn around the chest. It was usually made of gold or of gold-plated metal. Even when it was made of a cheap material, it was painted yellow to give a golden impression.
Gold and silver Egyptian jewelry:
The real start of Egyptian jewelry was when ancient Egyptians had access to precious metals, for even in ancient times, Egypt was envied for its underground treasures. At first they got these metals from the Eastern Desert and Nubia , later too as tribute and spoils of war from Syria and the north. Mining was often carried out by convicts under military control. This was a dangerous endeavor from which many of the laborers probably never returned.
Up until the Middle Kingdom, silver was considered as valuable to the Egyptians as gold, but after that time frame, Egyptians seem to have become fanatical over gold. Egypt was richer in gold than any other country of the region. Statues, furniture, vessels and jewelry, above all in the royal household and the temples, were often created from these precious metals.
Jewelry working techniques:
The Egyptians knew two kinds of bonding metals: welding and soldering. As early as the Middle Kingdom little pieces of jewelry were welded together. Soldering was known since the 4th dynasty at least. The work of Egyptian gold and silversmiths also included Hammered work, engraved, incised and chased work. The combinations of layers of gold plates, together with colored stones were also present. Gold was also widely used in gilding other less precious materials such as wood and stone. Cloisonn and filigree were already known at that time. The cloisonn technique was used in pectorals and pendants. It created outlines of figures and symbols with gold wires that were then soldered to sheets of beaten gold and later inlaid with colored stones or glass. Filigree, a delicate, lacelike ornamental work of gold or silver wire, was mostly used in buckles and clasps of gold. Granulation was the technique of creating various designs by soldering very tiny gold balls to the surface of gold sheets. The stones used in the inlays were considered to have magical properties based on their color.
The standard of work of the Egyptian goldsmiths was high from the beginning of the pharaonic age. Craftsmen in ancient Egypt were usually trained and skilled laborers. They were often well-respected in the community and had a comfortable lifestyle. Yet every craftsman's lifestyle and social standing depended on the quality of his skills and experience. Most craftsmen worked in temple workshops or palace workshops, for gold and silver jewelry were mostly reserved for the use of the gods, the kings and, to a lesser extent, the rich and powerful. Very few Egyptian commoners possessed any gold jewelry.
The art of jewelry making reached its peak in the Middle Kingdom, when Egyptians mastered the technical methods and accuracy in making pieces of jewelry. During the New Kingdom, this art flourished in an unprecedented way because of regular missions to the Eastern Desert and Nubia to extract metals.
It is to the tombs of ancient people that we must look for evidence of the early existence of Egyptian jewelry. The jewelry of the ancient Egyptians has been preserved for us in their tombs, sometimes in, and sometimes near the sarcophagi which contained the embalmed bodies of the wearers. This is due to the ancient Egyptian funerary beliefs that required that the mummified body should be wearing the finest jewelry. A large number of such jewelry was found on the mummies; for example, wreaths, crowns, or hair bands. On the head or wig, they fixed different types of ornaments, such as small roses, golden bands, and some simple bands of jewelry. There were also different types of belts, including waist belts and belts with hanging vertical straps ornamented with colored beads. Other types of jewelry included earrings, bracelets, anklets, rings, and necklaces.
The earliest known example of Egyptian jewelry goes back to the first dynasty. It is a set of four bracelets found in the tomb of Zer at Abydos . By the Twelfth Dynasty the jeweler's skill had attained something as near perfection as is possible in an imperfect world. For technical skill, delicacy of handling and for the love of nature which the design reveals there is nothing more fascinating than the two coronets of Khnemit, representing floral garlands used at festivals and including most of the flowers and fruits grown in Egyptian gardens
One of the best known examples of the magnificence of Egyptian jewelry is the jewelry of Tutankhamen's time (18th dynasty). Its treasures include gold filigree and granulated gold-work, and you hardly know what, amid such splendors, to admire most. The gold mask of the adolescent king, the headdress and collar inlaid with colored glass, or the smaller specimens of the ancient jewelers' art including the pectoral ornaments inlaid background of cloisonn. Tutankhamun's collection is the most complete royal treasure ever discovered.
If we have to speak of the production of jewelry as a modern art industry, we should say that nowadays, the craftsman of the twentieth century follows methods and traditions which his distant ancestors would recognize and understand, as these techniques come down to us from very far days.
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