Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Different Materials For Making of Egyption Jewelry

Menyet consisting of a thick necklace of faience, beads connected by two strings of glass and stone beads to a bronze counterpoise. Gold was the ineluctable material from which Egyptian jewelry came to be fashioned. Modern precious metals such as platinum, rhodium and palladium were virtually unknown to the ancient world, but their shining white appearance could be achieved by various alloys of silver and gold occurring in the natural state. The qualities that made gold so desirable have already been enumerated. It could be won and worked with comparative ease: it did not decay or tarnish in use but was indestructible, and its warm colour seemed to reflect the fire and brilliance of the sun. Egypt was fortunate in having within its boundaries immense deposits of gold, the richest by far of the ancient world. 

Modern experts, investigating the skill and diligence with which the ancient gold-fields were exploited, have reported that the Egyptians were very thorough prospectors and miners. No workable deposits have yet been discovered that they overlooked. It seems clear that by the Nineteenth Dynasty they had exhausted the more accessible supplies, for both Sethos I and Ramesses II had to open up mines deeper in the Eastern Desert, where wells supplying subterranean water required for the washing of the crushed ore and the sustenance of the workers could not easily be found. A map on a damaged sheet of papyrus from this period shows some mines, probably in the Wady Hammamat. 
 
Much of the gold, and certainly that which was won in earliest times, was found in metallic form as shining granules among sands and gravels. Its collection and melting into larger rings or ingots were not difficult processes and well within the ability of primitive peoples. It is possible that much of the gold levied in the New Kingdom as an annual tax upon Nubia and the Lower Sudan, as well as upon certain towns in Upper Egypt such as Koptos, Edfu, Esna and Hierakonpolis which had connections with the Eastern Desert, was collected in this way. 

It is shown in tribute scenes either as ring shaped ingots or as gold dust contained in red leather bag. Minimum amounts appear to have been fixed every year and such metal entered into the state magazines, whether of the king or of the larger temples. It is also probable that a certain amount of gold won by the same processes found its way by private trading into the free market to be used for the jewels of those citizens who could afford such luxuries. 

Bronze counterpoise from a menyet representing the goddess Hathor as an elegant queen and also as the cow-mother of mankind. Later and more advanced methods of mining involved the extraction of gold from veins in quartz rock, which had to be fractured by quenching areas previously heated by fire, pounding and grinding the broken portions, and panning the powder to separate the heavier metal particles. Such work was very laborious and performed, at least in Ptolemaic and Roman times, by criminals. Earlier the army, which was often used as a labour force, may have been employed on such work as well as captives.

Egyptian gold contains impurities mostly in the form of silver, which, when it amounts to as much as a fifth of the whole, becomes the pale amber coloured alloy, electrum . A higher proportion of silver produces a white metal indistinguishable in appearance from silver. 

Egyptian gold also contains varying percentages of other metals, chiefly copper, iron and sometimes platinum. It is clear that in remote antiquity goldsmiths must have relied upon colour and surface appearance for their assays, since they speak in one place of 'green gold' by which they presumably mean gold containing a fair proportion of silver. The Amarna Letters show that gold was tested by casting it into a furnace whence it did not always emerge weighing as much as it did before. 

This would suggest that, by the New Kingdom at the latest, the refining of gold was understood and carried out presumably by the cupellation process. Since at this period the smelting of bronze from copper and tin ores was widely practised, it is probable that improved metallurgical skills led to the discovery that alloys of gold such as electrum could be artificially produced. By the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty the Egyptians had certainly learnt to make an alloy of copper and gold which would hardly appear in nature and it is reasonable to suggest that similar experiments were conducted with other metals. 

As a result of the passage of time much ancient goldwork has acquired a grey, reddish brown or plum-purple patina due to the tarnishing of the copper, iron and silver components. It is evident, for instance, that in some of the jewels of Tut-ankh-amun gold was selected which has radically changed its colour over the centuries, very probably as the result of the deliberate introduction of other metals to alloy with it. This explains why the Babylonian rulers were not averse to casting into the furnace the gold they received from Egypt to see whether it was as pure as it pretended to be.
 
Priestess of Hathor with a menyet. Some goldwork during the New Kingdom from the Amarna Period until the end of the Ramessids (i.e. from 1370 to 1080 BC) has a shining rose-purple patination, which so far from being the result of slow chemical change over the centuries is an intentional effect apparently achieved by introducing iron salts into the metal at some stage of manufacture. It has been plausibly suggested that the addition of 'fool's gold' (iron pyrites) to the metal while it was being melted may very well have achieved this distinctive coloration which is due to a very fine film of iron oxide on the surface of the gold. Such coloured goldwork or the secrets of its manufacture evidently came from Asia, for one of the Amarna Letters from the King of Mitanni, listing the gifts that he was sending to Amenophis III, speaks of ornaments of gold 'through which blood shines'. 

The Egyptian name for this coloured gold is unknown. Some specimens, such as the openwork ornaments of Tut-ankh-amun, show both the pink colour of the treated metal and the yellow gleam of the natural gold, but this could easily have been achieved by scraping away the extremely fine film of oxide in selected areas. 

Electrum was a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver imported from the Eastern Desert and from the land of Punt, believed to have lain somewhere on the Somali coast. The evidence suggests that in earliest times its relationship to gold was not properly understood and it was classified as a separate metal. By the New Kingdom, however, it is almost certain that it was being produced artificially. 

Map of the gold mines in the Wady Hammamat
Silver to the ancient Egyptian was another form of gold, for he called it 'white gold', which should not be confused with its modern counterpart made from gold alloyed with nickel or platinum. In this, the ancient Egyptian seems to have spoken truer than he knew, for nearly all the silver found in the Old and Middle Kingdoms has a high proportion of gold in its composition varying from as much as 38 per cent down to 9 per cent. The name given to the metal by the Egyptians suggests that it was found in association with gold and it is in fact a low grade of gold containing so much silver as to be grey-white in colour. 

The metallurgical techniques required to smelt silver from its ores were probably not within the knowledge of the Egyptians at this period, and most Egyptian silver shows specks of gold unevenly distributed over its surface. The discovery that silver could be obtained from smelting argentiferous lead ores appears to have been made in Western Asia whence it began to be imported, particularly from the time of the New Kingdom onwards, though the Treasure of Tod, a deposit mostly of silver objects and ingots contained in four boxes bearing the names of Ammenemes II (obit. c. 1895 BC) and buried under the foundations of a Middle Kingdom temple, bears strong evidence that it derives from an as yet unknown Asiatic source.

Ancient Egyptian jewelry
Silver was rarer than gold in Egypt and was probably for that reason more highly prized until the Middle Kingdom, when imports from Asia began to arrive. The bracelets of Queen Hetep-her-es of the Fourth Dynasty, though massive in appearance, are actually thin shells of silver, whereas the gold on her furniture was lavishly applied. Even at the time of Tut-ankh-arnun little silver was used in his funerary equipment, the only sizable pieces being one of the trumpets and a vessel in the form of a pomegranate, though at least three silver jugs and a seal on a chain had been stolen from it, according to a label listing the contents of a broken box. 

The amount of silver buried on ancient Egyptian sites, however, was originally far greater than what has been recovered because, apart from losses due to plundering, silver unlike gold corrodes in contact with salt-impregnated soils, and cannot be restored if mineralization is complete.

Gold, electrum and to a lesser extent silver were the noble metals used for setting the gemstones which we would now classify as no more than semi-precious. The Egyptian chose them for their rich colours, not their refractive powers, and the classic trio that formed the basis of his colour schemes for jewelry was the blood-red carnelian, the vivid blue-green of turquoise and the deep cerulean blue lapis lazuli. The lust to possess such stones sent Egyptian prospectors into the Eastern Desert, where carnelian pebbles could be picked up without much difficulty and into Sinai where turquoise had to be mined laboriously from veins in sandstone outcrops. 

Lapis lazuli, however, was not found within the borders of Egypt and had to be imported from the Euphrates area whither it had been traded from Badakhshan in Afghanistan. It has been suggested that the Egyptian name for the stone, khesbed,is a variant of this toponym. These hardstones were not only used for inlays but also for beads, in which form they are known from the predynastic period, an indication of the extreme antiquity of trade routes.
  
Beautiful Egyptian Jewelry A list of craftsmen in a papyrus in the British Museum mentions a mes'at Or 'purveyor of precious stones', who may have been a sort of prospector roving the desert and collecting its produce, whether animal or vegetable as well as mineral. In addition to carnelian, other red stones capable of taking a high polish were sought out, such as red jasper and garnets which often occur in nature in the form of dodecahedral crystals; it requires very little working to turn them into beads. Often the garnets are shed from their matrix by weathering and form beaches of spheroidal stones which need only to be perforated to become beads. Egyptian garnets which are found at Aswan tend to be too small for use, but larger specimens came from Western Sinai. The popularity of garnets in the Middle Kingdom may have been due to the intensive exploitation of minerals in Sinai during that period.

An alternative stone used in place of turquoise is green feldspar, the Amazon Stone, of an opaque rich green tint, which is sometimes distinctly blue, and is easily broken along its two dominant planes of cleavage. A broad seam of the stone with evidences of ancient working has been found in the Eastern Desert. It was used for beads, particularly during the Middle Kingdom, and was still being employed for amulets and inlays during the time of Tut-ankh-amun.


Egyption Jewelry
Amethyst, which occurs in cavities in granite rocks, was used exclusively for beads and pendants, and occasionally for scarabs, even as late as the reign of Tut-ankh-amun. Though its popularity was greatest at the time of the Middle Kingdom, it appears as early as the First Dynasty in one of the bracelets of King Djer (c. 3000 B.c). It is, however, a stone of a colour that has to be used with discretion and it says much for the restraint of the Egyptian jeweller that he refrained from employing it as an inlay. Ancient amethyst workings have been found in the Aswan district, the Eastern Desert, and in the region of Abu Simbel. The rhomboidal crystals of the stone can be weathered or ground into ovoid or spheroid shapes, which were most commonly worked into beads.

Other stones used sporadically in Pharaonic times were yellow, green and brown jaspers, rock crystal, obsidian, banded chalcedony and calcite. The beryl is found only in jewelry of Hellenistic date.

From earliest times the Egyptians tried to find natural and artificial substitutes for their classical gemstones. By the time of Tut-ankh-amun they were using Iceland spar, a pure and transparent form of calcite, and rock-crystal, both backed by coloured cements as inlays.

But their greatest need was for a dark blue substance which imitated the expensive imported lapis lazuli, and their search for such a substitute was pursued with all the diligence that European chemists in the eighteenth century AD exercised in their Endeavour’s to imitate Chinese porcelain. In predynastic times they had discovered not only how to coat soapstone with an alkaline blue or green glaze but also how to fire powdered quartz into a compact substance covered with a gleaming vitreous glaze coloured green and blue from copper compounds. Later they developed black, red, white, yellow, and lilac glazes on the same body. Such materials could be easily carved or moulded into beads of various shapes and sizes.

In certain circumstances, with a greater proportion of alkali and rather higher temperatures, small quantities of the ingredients used in faience-making will fuse into a bright blue or green frit which, when ground up, can be used as a glazing substance or as a pigment. By the Fourth Dynasty at the latest, the Egyptians had succeeded in making a crystalline lapis blue material which owes its colour to the presence of copper calcium tetrasilicate. This substance, generally known as 'Egyptian blue', the coeruleum of Pliny, was exported to Rome in Imperial times where it was used as the standard blue pigment for wall-paintings, and only disappeared finally from the artist's palette in the seventh century AD. It is probable that the blue inlays used in some of the jewelry from Lahun and Western Thebes were of this substance though they had changed to a whitish powder in the damp mud that eventually buried them.

Avatar charm pendant Egyptian jewelryFrit is a form of glass, and isolated examples of glass as beads are found from the Fifth Dynasty to the beginning of the New Kingdom, the most notable example perhaps being the string containing small bright blue glass specimens together with silver, carnelian and green feldspar found on the neck of an infant of the family of King Mentu-hotpe II (c. 2050 Bc). The introduction of glass on an ambitious scale as an intentionally made material occurs only in the New Kingdom, the earliest datable pieces bearing the name of Tuthmosis Ill. The royal patronage of the new craft is seen in the proximity of glass factories to the palaces at Thebes, Amarna and Ghurab. 

It is probable that the making of glass in any quantity had to await the invention of the bellows-operated blast furnace, and increased interest and experimentation in the fusion of different ores which must have marked the introduction of bronze on a wide scale in Egypt during the New Kingdom, when copper was displaced as the metal in general use. From the fact that the blue colour of Egyptian glass often comes from cobalt compounds which are not found in Egypt, it has been deduced that glass was not an Egyptian invention despite its occasional and accidental emergence as a byproduct of the making of faience.

Egyptian Jewelry Silver Falcon Horus PendantAncient Egyptian glass is a soda-lime silicate, n dissimilar in composition to modern glass, but containing lower proportion of silica and lime. It was, however, usual opaque, though it is sometimes translucent and even occasionally transparent. Its main quality, when it is four in a good state of preservation, is the brilliance an intensity of its colours, yellow, white, black, red, green dark blue, light blue and greenish blue. The Egyptian found that in glass he could produce a number of close imitators of his classic gemstones, and he used them in his jewelry with enthusiasm, as so many of the furnishings from th tomb of Tut-ankh-amun bear witness. That the Egyptian was deliberately trying to imitate stones as much a creating a new substance is seen in his description of glass as 'melted stones'. 

Lest it be thought that 'glass' with it modern connotation suggests a rather cheap aid inferior product, it must be emphasized that Egyptian glass, despite its brilliant colours, lacks a sparkling surface, and the minute bubbles of captive air give a texture to the substance which often makes it difficult to distinguish from that of the stone it is trying to imitate. Some of the objects from the tomb of Tut-ankh-arnun have, for instance, been catalogued as inlaid with lapis lazuli, carnelian and feldspar, when glass simulating those stones would have been a more accurate description.

It is evident that the materials for Egyptian jewelry came almost exclusively from minerals mined or picked up in the Eastern Desert or Sinai. The early prospectors had no scientific means of distinguishing between various substances except by colour and hardness, and for this reason they included gold and silver in the same category as their precious stones, though they gave precedence to the former. On the other hand, naturally occurring gemstones are followed in the offering lists by the base metals, and they in turn by the artificial stones, suggesting that the Egyptians realized that the last two classes of substance could both be made by smelting various ingredients which were very different from the resulting products.

It also suggests that the Egyptians regarded man-made' products as inferior to those that the gods had provided. The chief deity of the deserts, from which all the beautiful materials of jewelry came, was Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty. She was particularly associated with jewelry and it is perhaps significant that her priestesses carried an elaborate men yet necklace as a symbol of her cult. She was also the patron of miners and prospectors who roved over the region and exploited its minerals.

Writer – Cyril Aldred
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