Monday, 28 January 2013

Techniques of Egyption Jewelry

Egyption Necklace
It is evident that with the crude tools at their command, only techniques of the simplest kind could have been employed by the Egyptian jewellers. The standards they achieved in their craftsmanship were dependent more upon skill of hand, the qualities of their raw materials and the time taken to complete a job than the precision and effectiveness of their implements. The settings of their jewels were normally made in precious metals, gold, electrum and, to a lesser extent, silver; and the processes employed by the jeweller are inseparable from those used by contemporary metalworkers.
As we have emphasized in the previous chapter the methods of Egyptian metalworkers appear to have been those in common use throughout the Near East. 

While the large deposits of gold in the deserts of Egypt and Nubia must first have been exploited by the natives of the region, there was probably always some opportunity for foreign techniques and styles to be introduced, particularly during the upheavals of the Hyksos invasions of the eighteenth century BC, when ancient states were modelled on new lines and new principalities appeared with fresh demands for the old luxury of jewelry and the trappings of sovereignty. 

In the New Kingdom, foreign princesses with their retinues of experts entered the harims of the Pharaohs as part of the diplomacy of the time. Such influences are probably responsible for inducing some scholars to see Helladic and Syrian influences in the metalwork of the period, particularly in that found in Lower. The explanations may well be that the metalwork of the entire area shows a generic similarity in its techniques and styles, though it appears to be more of Egyptian inspiration than any other.

Egyption Jewelry
The difference between the techniques of the jewellers and the metalsmiths is one of degree rather than kind. Raising and sinking metal plates upon stakes so as to hammer out beaker or dish shapes would indeed seldom have to be practised by the jeweller, but casting, repousse, chasing and soldering would be among the skills he would daily be called upon to exercise. Here to some extent his burdens were lightened by his use of gold that was generally of a high carat, ranging from 17 to 22. Such metal is soft and malleable and has a higher melting point than gold alloyed with greater amounts of silver and copper. It allows solders to be used for joining various components of the gold setting without incurring too great a risk of fusing the metal being worked; and this was important where primitive blowpipes and braziers were used which could not control temperatures to any critical extent.
Gold received in the form of rings or bags of assorted granules had first to be made into sheets for most jewelry and this would be done by fusing the dust or ingots into larger masses in the blast furnace, pouring the melt onto a flat surface and hammering it out to a sheet of the required thickness. The gold beating would have the effect of making the metal hard and brittle, particularly if it were of a lower carat, and unless this springy effect was required it would have to be reheated from time to time in order to anneal it. In the absence of any tool resembling shears, the gold sheets would have had to be cut by scoring several times  with a sharp implement such as a flint or hardened copper chisel, and, if the metal was thick, by bending it to and fro until it fractured along the score-marks. In the case of less extensive cuts or more complicated forms, the plate was trimmed to the required shape by means of a copper or bronze chisel, tapped with a wooden mallet.  
Jewelry Egyption
Gold of a high carat is sufficiently malleable to be worked with tools of bone or even hardwood, and these may very well have been used for repousse and chasing. For these processes, the plate with the design drawn upon it was mounted upon a bed of some firm yet yielding substance such as wax, or a mixture of wax, resin and mud, upon a board. What appears to be the remains of such a 'pitch-block', with a cast of the metal sheet that was once worked upon it, was found by the Germans in a sculptor's studio at Arnarna in 1913-14. The outlines and interior linear detail could be pressed into the mounted metal with a tool of bronze or bone by the repousse method. 

Such lines would appear on the reverse side of the plate as raised contours. Hollows hammered into the metal by means of a hardwood, bone or metal punch with a polished end that could be slid over the surface between each hammer blow, would appear on the reverse as raised domes. Repousse is virtually the complementary process to chasing, being worked on the back of the plate instead of its face. By alternating the two processes the metal can be pressed and hammered into relief which, if necessary, may be more than half-round. At the same time fine detail can be indicated and sharpness and precision achieved in the drawing. The gold reverses of the pectorals from Dahshur and Lahun were worked by these processes.

Engraving another technique of the goldsmith, involves the ploughing-out of a furrow in the metal with sharp point. In view of the absence of iron or steel tools in Egypt until the Late Period, there has been some speculation about the nature of the burin used, and flakes of chert, obsidian and other hard and brittle stones capable of being chipped to a sharp point have been suggested. Stone tools of this type may have been used for carving and engraving hard substances such as ivory; but engraving weakens metal by scooping out trenches in its surface and is impossible on material which is thin in section. It would appear, therefore, that the Egyptians engraved metal only when iron became common. Until then, fine detail was added by delicate chasing.
Egyption Jewelry Set
Besides working flat sheet into raised relief by repousse and chasing it was also possible to press, hammer or burnish thin metal into dies cut in lead, stone, wood or pottery. Such a method was employed where a great number of simple standard shapes were required, as for instance in metal beads or elements used in the stringing of collars or girdles. It would seem that hollow metal beads were made by working sheet into a die cut with a bowl-like depression, perforating the hemispheres so formed with their thread holes, trimming their edges and soldering them together along their adjacent large circles. Where a solid result was required, the two halves of such shells were filled with a fine compact clay before soldering could take place.

As the complementary process, sheet gold could be worked over a pottery, wood, stone or metal positive formed as a core that could be withdrawn, provided there were no undercuts, to leave a shell of metal reproducing the likeness of the original, but larger by the thickness of the metal sheet. Such a process was used where the shape was more complex and difficult to cut into intaglio in a die. It is probable that the heads of the goddess Bat on the mirrors and caskets of the Lahun and Dahshur jewels were made by this method. The Egyptians as early as the Archaic Period were able to make copper statues by hammering sheets of metal over a wooden core retained within and such work must have made them familiar with the moulding effects they could obtain by this means. In the case of gold shells made by the same method, additional detail and depth could be added by chasing and repousse.

The Egyptians were also familiar with the modelling effects of stamping moulds into wet clay sealings, and must have tried to secure a similar effect by interposing a thin sheet of gold between the stamp and a soft impressionable substance such as clay, and exerting additional pressure by striking the stamp with a hammer. The uniform results so achieved by the operation of the same stamp could also, of course, have been enhanced by chasing the metal impression. It would seem that the gold amulets used for funerary purposes, and generally of a rather simple and flimsy construction, were made by this method.
Strips could be cut from metal sheet by scoring or by cutting with the chisel, and if they were made sufficiently thin would assume the form of a wire triangular or square in section. This raises one of the problems of ancient technology, whether the Egyptians knew how to draw such strips into wires of circular cross-section, or whether they employed a technique, familiar in Hellenistic times, of winding a thin strip of gold upon a mandrel, such as a length of thread, subsequently withdrawn, in the same way as paper drinking-straws are made. The tube so formed could be made smaller in diameter by tighter coiling. Another and easier method more generally employed in the Hellenistic age is 'block-twisting', by which a strip of metal of square or rectangular cross-section was twisted about its major axis, resulting in a solid wire with a screw thread of variable pitch. The preparation of such wire would require frequent annealing. A finish was imparted by rolling it between flat surfaces which, if sufficiently vigorous, could almost eliminate the spiralling. The wire could be made thinner by tighter twisting and stretching.
Egyption Jewelry Earring
There is no evidence that in early Pharaonic times the Egyptians made wires by these methods, though not enough examples have survived and been studied to give a proper conspectus. It has been claimed that the square-sectioned wires were made round by hammering, a process which would have been virtually impossible except in the case of thick wires. It would have been feasible to roll wire of square or triangular section between two hard flat surfaces, so as to round off the corners by pressure or abrasion, only for short lengths at a time. Unfortunately, in his pictures of metalworkers in action, the ancient Egyptian did not represent the process of wire making. While the use of the drawplate made of a hard stone, such as glazed steatite, has been postulated by several investigators such as Moller and Vernier, the suggestion has been generally scouted. 

The Egyptian was able to drill hardstone beads for threading upon wires as well as linen fibres, and it does not seem improbable that he would have noticed in time the effect of forcing a bead drilled with a circular hole over a wire of square or triangular section, especially as the Egyptian drill would have made a hole of conical shape. Arthur H. Kopp, the ill-fated chemist of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, noted in the case of the gold wire circlet of Seneb-tisi that 'microscopic examination showed. . . plain evidence that this wire had been cut from sheet and then drawn square edges are seen here and there, and even shear marks at right angles to the wire axis, while longitudinal streaks plainly show evidence of drawing.'

The pulling of square- or triangular-sectioned wire through a bead would have been more of a smoothing action than a drawing one, and it may well be that the bead was rubbed up and down the wire and not the wire pulled through the bead. If the hole was not exactly circular at its egress, but had been broken through by drilling from one side only, an irregularity could have caused the striations that are sometimes seen in these wires. In the New Kingdom, however, when new processes may have been introduced, the block-twisting method appears on the scene to supplement the rolling and smoothing processes of making wires. The first evidence can be seen on an ear-plug of Amarna date which reveals that both techniques were in use on the same object; the braided wires having apparently been made by block-twisting, the plain ones by rolling or possibly smoothing.

Finger-rings of Tut-ankh-amun, gold and lapis lazuli. They are developed from signet rings, with elaborate bezels showing
Long lengths of wire were seldom required for Egyptian jewels, the circlet of Seneb-tisi being a notable exception. When a continuous length of wire was required, it was made by soldering shorter lengths together. The imperfect joins of such a length might be the 'shear marks' observed by Arthur Kopp. For most of his work the Egyptian jeweller required only short lengths of wire, the main need for which was in the manufacture of chains. For these, wire was coiled upon a rod of suitable diameter and cut longitudinally to produce a number of penannular rings which could then be interlinked before soldering the ends of each ring together. The resulting chain was, of course, very simple. A more complicated and stronger chain was made by soldering each penannular ring into a continuous circle, pressing it into an elongated shape and bending it up into a stirrup which could be looped through another. Such chains tend to have a square cross-section and are sometimes known as square or loop-in-loop chains. The loops may be doubled, quadrupled or even sextupled by threading each link through the ends of the two or more preceding links. The resulting chain is columnar in shape with a woven herringbone effect that has frequently encouraged the erroneous belief that they have been plaited.
Another method of making wires was by soldering granules into given lengths and straightening the wire so formed by rolling it between two flat surfaces. The ear-plug from Amarna shows examples of such wire, as does some of the goldwork from the tomb of Tut-ankh-amun. Beaded wires made by this method are best treated under granular work below.
For constructing the metal settings of his various jewels, the Egyptian had to join pieces together with hard solders, and several pictures of the goldsmith sitting at his brazier with blowpipe in mouth and tongs in hand show him at this exacting task. That the Egyptians knew how to join metal with hard solder by the Fourth Dynasty at the latest is clear from the bed canopy which belonged to Queen Hetep-her-es (c. 2600 Bc), since its copper sockets were formed by bending sheet copper into a cylinder and soldering the overlapping joints with a silver alloy.
A group of five gold fishes found in the coffin of an infant in a Middle Kingdom grave at Haraga clearly reveals that the Egyptian goldsmith was familiar with solders of different melting points and chose them carefully according to the size and nature of the job. These fish pendants are graduated in length from 4 cm. for the largest to 1.5 cm. for the smallest. They have survived in various states of preservation, the largest being in perfect condition and the smallest in a state of total disintegration. 

It is clear that each was made of two shells formed either in a mould, or more probably over a wood or steatite positive. The half of each fish was filled with finely levigated clay, the fins and tail inserted along the medial line, and solder run around the join. In the case of the largest fish there were sufficient heat-losses from its more extensive surface area to ensure that the ancient craftsman with his crucl€ blowpipe could only just reach the temperature necessary to melt the gold solder used; but in the case of the smaller fishes, no such control was possible and he was in danger of fusing the thin shells almost at the same time as the solder itself.

For the second largest fish, therefore, he chose a silver solder with a melting point well below that of the gold shells. At the time of discovery the solder which had flashed along the seam and over part of the fins and tail had changed to an easily visible purple 'horn-silver'. The other fishes in the group had been soldered with alloys of even lower melting points, containing copper, judging from the green deposits left on the goldwork. In the case of the two smallest fishes this poorer solder had decayed completely and the shells had fallen apart revealing the method of construction.
A scarab carrying a crown protected by a moon-bark and falcon
Whether the goldsmith made solders artificially or used less rich metals, which he distinguished by colour, to join nobler metals is problematical. Presumably he began in earliest times by empirical means to discover that some types of naturally occurring gold would fuse at a lower temperature than others; but it is almost certain that the making of bronze would have familiarized him with the ability to lower the fusing point of a metal by adding other metals or substances to the melt. Certainly by the Amarna Period he was producing a copper-gold alloy that could hardly have occurred in nature, and some of the goldwork from the tomb of Tut-ankh-amun suggests that he was deliberately debasing gold by adding copper or silver, since the objects show patchy tarnishing and corrosion.
The hard soldering of metals, whether with natural or artificial alloys, would have required the use of an oxide-removing flux to achieve success. In modern times borax is generally used for such purposes but there is no evidence that this mineral was used in ancient times. Deposits of borax have not been recorded in modern Egypt. The nearest plentiful supplies are found in Turkey and Tuscany, but it is doubtful whether borax was traded from such remote sites to Egypt in antiquity. No name for the mineral has been identified in ancient Egyptian lexicography; nor has the element boron been traced in analyses of ancient Egyptian materials. 

If borax had been used as a flux, it seems strange that no traces of it have been found in Egyptian glass or faience, in which, however, natron plays an important chemical role as a flux and binder. Natron, a mixture of sodium carbonate and bi-carbonate, with other sodium salts, occurs abundantly in Egypt and had such a multitude of uses that it was regarded as a magic substance. It is improbable that the fluxing and de-oxidizing qualities of natron in soldering would not have been discovered in antiquity. In point of fact, the writer has found no difficulty in joining pieces of silver with silver solder using a mixture of sodium carbonate and bi-carbonate in place of the usual borax. 

It has the advantage that it does not sputter like borax. Such a flux must have been used to silver-solder the second largest of the Haraga fishes, since solder had run onto the fins and tail following the course of surplus flux and had not subsequently been cleaned off, perhaps because it was less visible when new than when it had been converted into purple-brown horn-silver.
While it is clear, therefore, that the ancient Egyptians could solder metal with alloys of copper and silver, using natron as a flux, some doubt exists about the means they employed for soldering their goldwork with gold-rich solders. In ancient gold jewelry, the joins between the various components are usually undetectable. In the group of gold fishes from Haraga, for instance, while the silver/copper soldered joints are visible in the smaller specimens, the two halves of the largest fish are joined by a gold solder that cannot be distinguished from the gold of the shells and fins. If the join had been made by a gold alloy with a lower melting-point than the component parts, the solder would have been visible by its different colour, however slight, and however carefully any surplus might have been cleaned away, since after the lapse of nearly four millennia a distinct patina would have had a chance to develop.
This lack of any distinction in colour between the gold of ancient objects and their soldered joints has been ascribed by some authorities to the welding together of the various parts, a technique which would have been quite impossible with the crude tools in use at the time. Other writers have suggested 'surface enrichment' to account for the uniformity in colour. When gold alloys have been buried for any length of time, electrolytic action with salts in damp soils results in the disappearance of the baser metals in favour of the nobler. It has also been postulated that the ancients employed mild acids such as vinegar to achieve surface enrichment quickly by artificial means. Such treatment would have resulted in the pitting of the areas containing the displaced metals, whereas no such effects are discernible, even under strong magnification. Moreover, goldwork which has survived in dry conditions, without contact with damp soils, reveals the same qualities.

Pectoral ot SilI lathor-Yunet, reverse, gold with details in delicate chasing XlIth Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
There seems little doubt to the writer that the ancients soldered their goldwork by the process known as colloidal hard soldering, which was rediscovered in recent times by H. A. P. Littledale in seeking a means of reproducing the effects of Etruscan granular and filigree work without flooding the grains and wires with solder. Mrs P. F. Davidson, Research Associate of the Brooklyn Museum, has shown that a simplified version of Littledale's process results in a bond between various gold parts which 'if properly done has no peer in strength'. 

In colloidal hard soldering, ground copper carbonate, probably in ancient Egypt in the form of powdered malachite so commonly used as an eye-cosmetic, is mixed with gum or glue and this adhesive is employed to stick the grains or wire into place, or to coat the adjacent edges of the parts to be joined. The work is then heated on the charcoal brazier with the assistance of the blowpipe on those areas which have to be raised to the highest temperatures. At 100°C the carbonate changes to copper oxide, by 600'C the adhesive has become completely carbonized and at 850°C the carbon combines with the oxygen in the copper oxide and vaporizes as carbon dioxide, leaving the merest traces of copper adhering to the gold parts. 

At about 880°C a curious phenomenon occurs: the gold in contact with the copper melts to form a welded joint, whereas both gold and copper melt at nearly the same temperature well above this point, viz. 1083°C and 1063°C respectively. The process had great advantages for the ancient craftsmen. There was no decrepitation of flux to throw pallets of solder off the job, and the various parts were already stuck together by the dried adhesive before heat was applied. All that required to be done, once the mixture had been correctly prepared and applied, was careful heating over the bed of glowing charcoal. 

The work could subsequently be heated up a number of times to affix other elements, without the risk of unfastening joints that had previously been made. Mrs Davidson has used the technique to 'fasten granules to granules, granules to sheet gold, sheet gold to sheet gold, wire to sheet gold and every other possible combination of grains, sheet and filigree.' She has further found that it is possible to exclude the copper carbonate from the adhesive if the gold to be joined already has a sufficiently high percentage of copper.

The process is particularly suitable for gold, though claims have been made that it will also work for silver. For copper itself hard solder with fluxes must have been used. Although the ancient Egyptians knew of tin by the New Kingdom at least, and had smelted lead in small amounts from predynastic times, soft solder was not developed in antiquity for jewelry or fine work in metal.
Max Neiger Egyptian Revival necklace. Colloidal hard soldering was used to join granules together to form beaded wires and these were sub-sequently rolled between flat surfaces to straighten them. Increasing the pressure during rolling has the effect of squeezing the grains into cylindrical or spool shapes. Ancient Egyptian beaded wires, which were introduced in the Amarna Period, do not show the elaboration of shapes which are so characteristic of later Hellenistic work, and evidently rolling was limited to straightening a crooked row of granules soldered together. Nevertheless, in the ear-plug from Amarna the effect of unequal pressure on the plates rolling over the wires has resulted in the distortion of the granules into near spool shapes in places, and it is interesting to see the emergence at this time of an accidental effect that was later intentionally exploited.

Granules of uniform size are made today by such processes as snipping strips of metal into equal squares, or winding wire over a mandrel and cutting the coil so as to produce rings of equal size. These particles are then heated until they fuse into globules. Similar methods have been postulated for antiquity; but such processes, which are simple with modern tools, would have been found difficult by the ancient craftsman. He had, however, plentiful supplies of ready-made granules to hand in the bags of gold dust in which much of the gold tribute reached him. All he needed to do to obtain grains of uniform size was to sift the contents of such bags through screens of different mesh. Two or more such granules could be fused together to obtain larger globules.
During the New Kingdom the Egyptians made a bead by soldering five or more grains into a ring around a central hole. When these were threaded together, they inter-meshed to produce what looks like a flexible reticulated tube of solid gold. Examples have been found in the tombs of three queens of Tuthmosis III and of Tut-ankh-amun. Hollow ball beads were also found there decorated with granular work. The earliest appearance of such techniques in Egypt, however, is found in the treasure of the Princess Khnumet from Dahshur and has a decided Asiatic look with its star-shaped medallions. 

The butterfly motif, with its somewhat Aegean echo, had appeared much earlier in the jewelry of Queen Hetep-her-es and in the absence of all personal jewelry of the Old Kingdom, it would be rash to assert that granular work was not introduced until the Middle Kingdom. Nevertheless there are good grounds for believing it to be of Asiatic origin, since the goldwork found by Woolley in the royal cemetery of Ur and dated to c. 2550 BC already shows familiar designs in granules. It may well be that, with the more intimate contacts between Egypt and Asia in the Twelfth Dynasty, new techniques were introduced by immigrants and adopted by native goldsmiths.
There is less doubt about the origins of the most characteristic feature of Egyptian jewelry, its cloisonné-work, in which strips of metal were bent to shape, placed on edge and soldered to base plates so as to form cells or cloisons. The cells were then set with coloured inlays cut to shape and cemented in position, the entire surface being subsequently polished. This technique was known from the early Old Kingdom at the latest, for fragmentary dummy vessels have been excavated from the ruins of the mortuary temple of King Nefer-ir-ka-re (obit. c. 2460 BC) which imitate originals made of gold inlaid with coloured stones. Scraps of jewelry found in the tomb of Queen lput of the early Sixth Dynasty (obit. c. 2340 BC) include two drop beads made in cloisonné-work. The technique reached its greatest perfection in the Middle Kingdom, but it is still very much in evidence in the tomb of Tut-ankh-amun where, however, short cuts were being taken in the fitting of the inlays.
Related to cloisonné-work is niello, in which an alloy of copper and silver blackened by sulphur compounds is used as a foil to raised designs in gold. Examples of this technique are more characteristic of the Aegean area; and almost the only example from Egypt is the blade of the dagger of Amosis, found in the treasure of Queen Ali-hotpe, which has an inscription and animal designs inlaid in gold against a black composition centre-rib on each side of the blade.
 The remaining technique of metalworking which the Egyptians had fully mastered was casting. This was not often employed in jewelry-making since stampings and mouldings in sheet metal gave adequate and more economical results. Nevertheless, there was no alternative to casting in the case of certain parts of objects or of entire jewels. The head of the vulture pectoral of Tut-ankh-amun, for instance, must have been cast, since carving and filing it out of the mass would have been very wasteful of precious gold.

Such pieces were doubtless cast by the cire perdue method, the model being worked in beeswax, fitted with a sprue and the whole invested with fine clay. When this had been carefully dried and heated to a high temperature the wax would burn off, allowing gold melted in a crucible to be poured into the cavity. Statuettes and similar small articles would be cast solid, but the Egyptian in the New Kingdom, at least, could also cast larger objects by the cire perdue method on a core retained within by chaplets of copper.

NON-METALS

Worship of the sun-god Re; scarab carrying moon disk and crescent, flanked by scarabs with sun disks.Egyptian jewelry has conveniently been classified into hoop jewelry, which consists essentially of metal hoops such as finger-rings, anklets, bracelets, circlets and the like; and bead jewelry, which comprises necklaces, girdles, collars, headdresses, bracelets and anklets. Pectorals, amulets and pendants may be regarded tor the purposes of this classification as more elaborate beads. The special contribution of Egypt to the jeweller's art was its bead jewelry. No other nation of antiquity produced such an enormous wealth of beads in so many different shapes and substances, and used them not only in single and multiple strings but threaded to form patterned textiles, or sewed them on linen or papyrus backing to make such articles of dress as belts, aprons and sandals.
Beads, which are found in Egypt as early as the Neolithic period, were first made of natural objects such as pebbles, seeds, shells, teeth, horns and bones which had some amuletic significance. But aesthetics reinforced magic when objects were fashioned out of materials chosen for their appearance as much as for their numinous power. The earliest of these were pebbles and crystals that could be shaped, drilled and polished to thread upon a string.

A factory for making stone beads found at Kerma above the Third Cataract of the Nile, though dating to the Twelfth Dynasty, doubtless shows techniques which had long been traditional. The first stage of the process was to select pebbles (e.g. of carnelian or jasper) or crystals (e.g. of amethyst or garnet) of an appropriate size and shape, or to break up larger stones to obtain such pieces roughly chipped to shape. They were then drilled, sometimes from one point only, but often from opposite poles when the hole began to wander from its proper axis. Some doubt exists as to the type of drill used. 

In prehistoric times it may have been a stalk fed with an abrasive powder and rotated between the palms of the hands. The 'wobbly drill' with its flint borer used for hollowing out stone vases does not appear to have been used for beads. An enigmatic scene in a relief dated to the Late Old Kingdom shows large blocks of carnelian being worked by an instrument, apparently of wood, perhaps a development of the hand-rotated stalk.
For the most part, however, the drill in common use was the bow-drill. Its point was usually of copper fed with an abrasive powder such as crushed flint, chert, stone-dust from the beads themselves, or fine quartz sand; but there seems some evidence that the borers could also be of flint or chert, perhaps reflecting a traditional practice dating back to prehistoric times. Scenes in New Kingdom tombs show lapidaries operating three drill-stocks at once with the same bow, but though it has been claimed that the feat is possible it seems more likely that the operation represented is polishing rather than accurate boring.
The rough perforated beads were then ground to a better finish by rolling them between flat rubbers of an abrasive stone such as quartzite; or, in the case of cylindrical beads or several disk beads threaded on to an axle, by rubbing them in grooves ploughed out of gritty stone blocks. They may also have been finally polished by jamming them on the points of a bow-drill and rotating them in suitable recesses in a wooden block fed with an abrasive mixture of fine quartz sand and oil or water.
Gold fish pendant, largest of a set of five from the grave of an infant at Haraga. The art of the bead-maker reached a high point of achievement in the Middle Kingdom. From this period stone beads have survived of minute size and extra-ordinary fineness in which perforations of great length occur. How such beads were made is unknown but it is to be suspected that the hole must have been drilled first and the body afterwards rubbed away till the desired degree of thinness had been obtained.
The constant search for a convenient substance from which hard blue and green beads could be easily made was partly successful when the Egyptians discovered how to coat steatite (soapstone) with a green or blue vitreous alkaline glaze as early as the Badarian period of the prehistoric age (c. 4000 Bd. Steatite, which occurs in several places in Egypt, can easily be worked since it is very fine-grained and soft enough to be marked by the finger nail. It is eminently suitable for carving into such objects as statuettes, vases, amulets and beads. On being heated in the glazing oven it does not change or fracture but becomes dehydrated, in which state it is hard enough to scratch glass. The working of steatite into glazed beads, while not difficult, is tedious and time-consuming, and except for the more complicated shapes steatite was replaced by mass-produced faience beads.

White disk beads were made from shells, particularly that of the ostrich egg, which were broken into pieces of convenient size and trimmed roughly circular, then drilled, threaded on a stiff core and rubbed to shape in the same way as stone disk beads were made. Such shell disks exist from the Neolithic period and never completely lost favour, though they were replaced in the Eighteenth Dynasty by similarly shaped beads made of white faience.
The greater proportions of ancient Egyptian beads however, are made of faience which was introduced in the period. According to Petrie and Reisner, such-beads were made on an axis, perhaps of thread, which would be burnt out in the firing, leaving a hole. Disk beads, ring beads and tubular beads were made by coating the axis with the body-paste, rolling the long cylinder so formed on a flat surface and scoring it with a knife into sections of different lengths, depending upon what kind of bead was required. Other shapes, such as ball beads, were rolled between the hands and perforated while still soft with a stiff point such as a needle-like wire. The beads were then dried, coated with glaze, if indeed glaze had not been mixed with the paste, and fired, the smaller specimens often being fused to the condition of translucent frit.
The vast majority of faience beads are blue or green in colour; but black, red, yellow and white beads were also produced, especially in the New Kingdom. In addition to making beads of simple geometrical forms, the Egyptians could press faience into moulds to make beads of more complex shape, such as pear-shaped drop beads, hieroglyphs, figurines, leaf and flower forms. Ring beads were attached to one or more points of the larger beads at the final glazing and are the means of stringing them into collars and bracelets. In the Amarna Period, when faience and glass manufacture reached a high degree of perfection, leaf, flower-petal and fruit forms were cast in polychrome faience as elements in the elaborate floral collars and fillets that replaced the more ephemeral archetype worn on festal occasions.

Gold fishThe latest material from which beads were made was glass, introduced in quantity during the New Kingdom. Petrie, who had an excellent opportunity of studying the manufacture of glass from the remains of the factory he found at Tell el-Amarna, reports that the usual method of making beads was by winding drawn-out threads of molten glass upon a copper wire which contracted on cooling and could be withdrawn. Threads of different colours could evidently be used in the same bead; and drop shapes, as well as spherical, cylindrical and barrel beads, were produced by this method. Glass, too, could be pressed into moulds and treated very much as a more brilliant kind of faience. Some modest jewelry was also produced at this time entirely in glass, such as ear-studs, and earrings made of two differently coloured glass canes twisted together to form diagonally striped rods.
A decline of skill in the manufacture and manipulation of glass is evident in Egypt after the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty, and as a material it virtually disappears after the fall of the New Kingdom with the destruction of the Late Bronze Age civilization of the Near East. Glass-making in Egypt was not revived until Ptolemaic times, after Alexander the Great had founded Alexandria with its cosmopolitan population and trades in the fourth century B.c.
The Egyptians learnt very early to combine strings of beads into chokers, bracelets and anklets by means of spacer beads. These were in effect perforated bars of bone or ivory or wood, often covered with gold leaf, or of faience or metal interspersed along the threads at intervals to keep the beads in position as flexible bands of ornament instead of a sagging tangle of strings. Bead-work, so threaded, could be made into the pattern of the block-border so dear to the sensibility of the Egyptian artist as a decorative motif.
A special kind of spacer was the collar terminal, usually in the form of a flat faience or stone lunette with diagonal holes on its straight edge through which the various strings of beads could be anchored. Other holes at the opposite point of the terminal took the tie-strings by which the collar was secured. In the funerary Broad Collars the end-pieces are often in the form of a falcon's head and the most elaborate examples are of gold inlaid with stone or substitutes.
The making of stone beads was a routine if exacting task: the more expert lapidaries must have specialized in the cutting, fitting and polishing of the inlays that went into the making of the cloisonné jewelry which is the chief glory of Egyptian decorative art. It is probable that a fragment of jasper, carnelian, turquoise, felspar or lapis lazuli, left over from bead-making, was selected as near to the required shape as possible and chipped and rubbed so as to fit the appropriate cell exactly. It was cemented into position with resin mixed with a calcareous filler, such as powdered limestone or gypsum, presumably applied in a molten state, since an oleo-resin would have taken a long time to dry out and harden. 

The cements were often tinted to match the colour of the inlays, but in the Dahshur and Lahun jewels the filler now appears as a white plaster which may have lost its pigments and organic adhesives. When the inlays had all been fitted carefully, the entire face of the jewel almost certainly would have received a final polish.
Inlay work must have been a highly skilled occupation and it is very probable that the craftsman would have sought ways of securing the desired result by less laborious means. The substitution of green and blue frit for the rare and costly turquoise, felspar, and lapis lazuli must have eased their tasks somewhat, since this material could have been cast near to the required shapes and sizes. The introduction of niello suggests that the jeweller was striving to find a plastic material that could be easily and quickly inserted in the cloisons and fill them exactly without incurring long and tedious labour in the process. 

Necklace of Egyptian JewelryThe substitution of glass for natural stones in the New Kingdom gave the craftsman a means of casting his inlays direct in the cloisons, since all he would need to do was to pack powdered glass into the cells and heat it up until it fused into a compact mass. This is virtually the process of enameling, in which the glass at its melting point penetrates the surface of the metal and adheres closely to it.
That the ancient Egyptians knew the arts of enameling is generally denied, despite the fact that it would have been perfectly feasible for powdered glass to be fused in the separate cells of gold cloisonné-work, since the melting point of ancient soda-lime glass is below that of gold. The presence of lead in some glass from Amarna would also assist in a proper bond between the glass and metal. While it is apparent that, in most of the jewels of Tut-ankh-amun, glass inlays have been used like precious stones, each piece being cut, shaped to fit its cell and cemented in position, there is at least one object which displays a different technique. 

This is the pectoral in the form of a vulture which may have been worn by the king in life. It is made of gold, the cloisons being inlaid with blue, green and red glass. The inlays fit their cells more tightly and accurately than is the case with the majority of jewels from the same deposit; and this and the absence of any traces of cement give them the appearance of having been fired in situ. 

The proof that this is indeed the case is to be seen in the small crater made by an air-bubble visible in most of the red glass inlays forming the lesser coverts of the wing. Blow-holes can also be seen under the microscope in one or two places in the blue glass inlays, while the outlines of the gold ribs have a burred effect, as though the entire surface has subsequently been ground down, the inlays having shrunk in their beds on firing.

This pectoral at least shows an example of cloisonné enameling and a closer examination of other of the Tut-ankh-amun jewels might reveal that it is not unique; some of the finger-rings, for instance, look as though the backgrounds of their bezels are enameled in blue glass.
Writer - Cyril Aldred
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