Friday, 11 January 2013

The Recovery of Ancient Egyptian Jewelry

Bracelets from the left and right arms of Tut-ankh-amun, some of rigid half-cylinder design, the others of flexible bead-work, made of gold, electrum, hardstones and coloured glass.
On the 22nd day of the 3rd month of the Winter Season, in the 16th regnal year of the Pharaoh Ramesses IX (i.e. c. 1124 BC), a certain stonemason, Amun-pnufer, was taken in custody to the Treasury of the Temple of Mont, to the north of modern Karnak, and there brought before a tribunal of high officials, presided over by the Vizier, who was investigating allegations of wholesale robbery among the tombs at Western Thebes on the opposite bank of the Nile. After being beaten as a foretaste of what to expect if he withheld information, Amun-pnufer was made to take an oath to speak the truth and repeat evidence he had given three days before at a preliminary examination. 1.1/bile the secretary of the court took down his testimony, and incidentally preserved it for our eyes to read, Amun-pnufer described how he and seven other members of his gang had taken their mason's tools and forced their way into the tomb of King Sobek-em-saf of the Seventeenth Dynasty who had lived over four centuries earlier. They had eventually reached an inner place where the body of the king lay: and in an adjoining chamber they found the burial of his queen, Nub-kha-es.

We found the noble mummy of the sacred king,' he went on, 'equipped with a scimitar. Numerous golden amulets and ornaments were upon his breast and a golden mask was over his face. The noble mummy of this king was entirely bedecked with gold and his coffins were embellished with gold and silver, both inside and out, and inlaid with precious stones. We collected the gold, together with the amulets and jewels that were about him and the metal that was on his coffins. We found the queen in the same state and retrieved all that we found upon her. Then we set fire to their coffins. We took the furnishings that we found with them comprising objects of gold, silver and bronze and divided the spoils amongst us . . . amounting to 160 Deben [about 14.5 kilos] of gold in all.'

Ancient Egyption NecklaceAmun-pnufer concluded his confession by admitting that he and his gang had been robbing tombs at Western Thebes during the previous four Years, but he sought to justify himself by asserting that a large number of other people did the same and were as good as partners in his crimes.

Near the end of July, AD 1916, Western Thebes was visited by one of the very rare but severe rainstorms that break over the desert and suddenly convert the empty water-courses of the region into roaring torrents even miles from the centre of the disturbance. The raging flood scours out new channels as well as old in its moments of fury and spills over in cascades, washing away detritus and shifting surface deposits as by the spade of the excavator. This phenomenon was well known to the natives of Qurna at Western Thebes who, when the storm had spent its force, roamed over the cliffs of the neighbourhood to see what the floods might have exposed. 

It was in this way that at the bottom of a cleft among the crags, not an hour's walk from where Amun-pnufer and his confederates had operated three thousand years earlier, one of the gangs found a tomb in which three queens of Tuthmosis III had been laid to rest c.1480 BC in all their funerary splendour and with a rich complement of toilet objects and vessels in gold and silver, in addition to their crowns and the other jewels they had worn in life. Their coffins had already rotted from damp and it did not take the gang long to rifle the burials and sell the loot to various dealers who soon dispersed it to Europe and America, where the bulk of it now forms one of the treasures of the Metropolitan Museum of Art .

Ancient Egyption JewelryThese two accounts separated by three millennia of history will serve to show why it is in the nature of a miracle that any ancient Egyptian jewelry should have survived reasonably intact to modern times. The hunt for valuable grave goods in Egypt has gone on relentlessly since a little after the time of the first burial in that land and has entered into its folklore, and into such stories as those of Aladdin and Ali Baba. The wealth of treasure found in the tomb of Tut-ankh-amun and in those of the later kings at Tanis, has revealed what compelling incentives there were for the impoverished and greedy to risk all in a search for sudden riches. The reason why the mummies of the great Pharaohs of the New. Kingdom repose in a despoiled and shattered state in the Cairo Museum is that, by the time the rulers of Thebes in the tenth century BC had rescued their remains, they had suffered miserably from the axes of the more impious and rapacious of their subjects eager to strip them of the jewels with which they were smothered, the only traces of which are now occasional impressions left on their hardened skins. The sole difference between the thieves of Qurna in 1916 and their ancestors in 1124 BC was that in the case of the former, more could be got for their plunder by selling it intact than by melting it down.

Lovely Ancient Egyption JewelryThe special aura that attaches to finds of jewelry in modern Egypt is nowhere better sensed than in the account of the discovery of the jewelry of Queen Ah-hotpe of the early Eighteenth Dynasty (obit. c. 1550 BC). In 1859 one of the agents of Auguste Mariette, the Frenchman who had just been appointed Conservator of Monuments by Said Pasha, while excavating in the detritus of the Dra 'Abu l'Naga at Western Thebes, found the coffin of the queen which also contained a costly accompaniment of goldwork and jewelry. The story of this find, which lost nothing in the telling, soon reached the ears of the mudir of Qena who seized the coffin, had the mummy unwrapped in his harim and then took ship down the Nile to offer the treasure to Said as a personal gift. Mariette, learning of this act of piracy, and unwilling that the credit of his discoveries should be claimed by outsiders, set off in his official steam launch, intercepted the mudir's boat and succeeded by great effrontery and a show of force in recovering the treasure which he in turn presented to Said. Happily Said did not resent the manner in which his Conservator of Monuments had retaken possession of the jewelry, nor did he claim it all for himself; but his Oriental mind was at last awakened to the importance and value of the antiquities that were being uncovered, and he gave orders that a museum worthy of housing such valuable finds should be established.

The discovery of Ah-hotpe's jewels and trappings hardly ranks as serious archaeology since no reliable records were kept at the time of discovery, and some of the minor objects may have disappeared during the unwrapping in the mudir's harim. It is, for instance, impossible now to discover how the various elements in the unique Falcon Collar were strung originally, though such information was doubtless available at the moment of unwrapping.

Lovely Ancient Egyption Jewelry Necklace
Actually no large deposit of jewelry has been found intact by scientific excavation in Egypt apart from that recovered from the tomb of Tut-ankh-amun, and even there the personal jewels, as distinct from the funerary amulets, had mostly been stolen. De Morgan, excavating in 1894 and 1895 in the precincts of the ruined pyramids of Ammenemes II (obit. c. 1895 BC) and Sesostris III (obit. c. 1843 BC) at Dahshur, had the good fortune to find the personal ornaments of six daughters of the royal house. His methods of recovery, however, were defective and the crowns, pectorals, bracelets and necklaces were exhibited in their divorced parts for many years in the Cairo Museum until the study of the contemporary jewels from Lahun enabled them to be reassembled into something approaching their original appearance and magnificence.

In 1914, Flinders Petrie, excavating the pyramid complex of Sesostris II (obit. c. 1878 BC) at Lahun, lighted upon the pit-tomb of Sit-Hathor-Yunet, a daughter of the king, who had been buried within the enclosure of her father's monument. Her burial had been rifled in antiquity and her body broken up to retrieve the funerary jewelry which adorned and protected it so ineffectually. But the robbers, working in frantic haste and by the feeble light of guttering lamps, had overlooked an obscure recess which housed her jewelry caskets, wig-chest and toilet-boxes. These were subsequently covered with layers of mud washed into the chambers of the opened tomb by periodical flooding until the tomb-shaft was eventually choked with drifting sand. 

By the time Petrie's assistant, Guy Brunton came to clear the recess, it resembled a large dried-out mud pie into which various bits and pieces of the objects had been stirred by swirls of storm-water and debris. The decayed wood was little more than a brown stain in the circumambient mud and the corroded copper and silver were reduced to virtual green and purple smears. Brunton spent days and nights in the cramped conditions of the tomb, picking away at the mass of mud with a penknife and a pin, until he had recovered without damage the thousands of pieces both large and minute. He also managed to make a plan showing the position of each item as he came upon it during his slow clearance of the recess and his notes and diagrams proved of inestimable value when the reconstruction of the jewelry and caskets was eventually undertaken.

As the Lahun hoard seemed to duplicate the con-temporary treasure from Dahshur, Petrie was allowed to keep the jewelry with the exception of Sit-Hathor-Yunet's mirror, crown and a pectoral, each of which was unique, and these remained in Cairo. Petrie subsequently sold the contents of the recess to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where two of the caskets were reconstructed with great skill and ingenuity by A. C. Mace and the original appearance of the jewelry was recovered by Herbert Winlock in a brilliant study of the entire deposit based upon Brunton's invaluable fieldwork. Only in two minor particulars did Winlock go astray, and E. S. Eaton was subsequently able to show that the bird-claw necklace should be re-threaded to make two anklets . William Hayes has also pointed out that the gold tubes on the great wig of Sit-Hathor-Yunet should be rearranged in a chequer pattern.

Attractive Ancient Egyption Jewelry
A similar deposit covered with water-laid mud and debris was found by Edward Ayrton in a pit-tomb in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes in 1908. But it was excavated with far less skill and conscientiousness than Brunton had exercised at Lahun, and what was retrieved was for long regarded as part of the funerary equipment of Queen Twosre (obit. c. 1200 BO hidden away by a robber or guardian in the pit in which it was found when her tomb) was usurped by her successor Set-nakhte, and her burial evicted. There is little doubt, however, that what Ayrton found was the burial of an infant daughter of Twosre by her first husband, King Sethos II, and the child's meagre personal jewels had been supplemented with pieces from the queen's trinket boxes, including heirlooms.

The discovery by Pierre Montet in 1939 of royal tombs of the Twenty-first and Twenty-second Dynasties at Tanis has brought to light jewelry of the Late Period, mostly of a funerary character and maintaining the traditional design of such arnuletic pectorals, collars and bracelets. But it would appear that the burials of the Pharaohs in question had been disturbed and rearranged in antiquity, and it is probable that their personal ornaments had long been filched by the time Montet came to uncover them. While in the mass the goldwork and jewels found at Tanis make an impressive show, it is clear that each king took to the tomb a far less opulent store of treasure than was buried with Tut-ankh-amun.

In Egypt, as elsewhere, spectacular discoveries of such riches have more often been made by accident than as a result of deliberate search. Thus in 1906, while a railway embankment was being constructed at Zagazig in the Delta, near Tell Basta, the site of the ancient city of Bubastis, a hoard of gold and silver, mostly in the form of vessels but including bracelets of Ramesses, was uncovered. This was probably a cache hidden by a thief or temple official in troubled times and never reclaimed. The Antiquities Department had difficulty in establishing its right to all this treasure-trove against the claims of a local dealer, and as a result some of the hoard is now in the Berlin and Metropolitan Museums. Such chance finds as that of the treasure of the queens of Tuthmosis III have usually been made by private persons who are only too willing to dispose of the objects to middlemen under a vow of secrecy; and it is seldom that such discoveries come to the ears of authority. 

In this way jewels have entered collections abroad with no details of the circumstances in which they were found, or at the best accompanied by a garbled and often deliberately misleading account. It is rare that the Cairo Museum has been able to take possession of such fortunate finds, a notable exception being the Tukh el-Qaramus hoard which was found by accident in 1905 when an ass, straying from the path, put its hoof through a large pot buried near the surface of the ground and revealed to its overjoyed rider the glitter of gold and silver that lay hidden within. Unfortunately for the finder, he was seen to remove his prize to his home and nearly all its contents were recovered by the Antiquities Service before they could be dispersed. They proved to be mostly of Hellenistic date and thus outside the scope of our survey.

Jewelry of Ancient EgyptionSuch treasure that has escaped the melting-pot during the last century and a half, whether it has been carefully uncovered by the archaeologist or by the hands of less scrupulous looters, now lies scattered among a hundred collections in Egypt, Europe and America. This fortuitous sampling of ancient jewelry, however, is unfortunately rather uneven. While we have representative examples from the Middle and New Kingdoms and are thus in a position to assess the achievement of these periods, the actual specimens of Old Kingdom date are very rare indeed and reflect mostly a funerary art. The Saite period, which was characterized by a return to the classic styles of earlier ages, expressed by meticulous and unfaltering techniques, is unrepresented except by a few battered funerary amulets. In the latest periods of Pharaonic history, the native jewelry is replaced by Persian and Hellenistic designs favoured by those of the ruling classes who could afford such an expensive luxury.

Despite the incomplete nature of this conspectus, Egyptian jewelry in the mass forms a most impressive testimony to the skill and taste of the ancient craftsman, making its appeal by its effective design and the glowing colours of each jewel considered as a whole. In this it bears a closer resemblance to medieval stained glass than it does to modern jewelry. Precious gemstones employed in the making of modern expensive jewels were unknown to the ancient Egyptians who selected their materials for their colour and polish rather than their refractive powers, brilliance and rarity.

Writer –Albert shoucair
 Visit Also:

Jewelry Extenders 

Tube Beads

No comments:

Post a Comment