Saturday, 12 January 2013

Uses of Ancient Egyptian Jewelry

Gold and silver necklaces from the burials of three queens of Tuthrnosis Ill. The top string is of beads each made of five gold grains soldered around a central hole. The second string from the bottom consists of pendants in the form of gold flies.
It should be obvious from the foregoing chapter that what has survived today is but an infinitesimal proportion of the jewelry that was produced in Egypt during the three millennia of its history under the Pharaohs. In the first place, personal adornments were warn in life by men as well as women and these were not restricted to finger-rings but could include bracelets, anklets, collars, necklaces and, at some periods, even earrings and fillets. Everyone who could afford a burial, however modest, expected to be tricked out in his finery after death and even the poorest inhumations do not lack a string or two of beads around the neck or arm of the deceased. The sands of the necropolis at Saqqara are so rich with the 'mummy beads' of disturbed burials that the stringing of them as necklaces for sale to tourists is a venerable local industry. 

The gods, too, had their jewelry. Every shrine sheltered the statue or statues of gods which had to have a change of raiment, including jewelry and especially collars, as part of the daily ritual of service. The temple magazines held impressive quantities of jewels, as we can read from their inventories, though of course all have long since been looted and only a miserable huddle of discarded treasure found hidden in the precincts of the temple of Dendera bears any witness to the wealth that was once stored in temple repositories. The pictures of the furnishings provided by Tuthmosis III for the temple of Amun at Karnak, and shown sculptured on the south wall of a chamber adjacent to the sanctuary, include a catalogue of the various gold necklaces, collars and bracelets which he supplied for the service of the god. With such widespread patronage it is clear that the occupation of jeweller must have been one of the most flourishing in ancient Egypt throughout its long history.
 
Jewels, by which we mean any ornament designed to adorn the person, may be worn for various reasons, but probably their fundamental and most compelling purpose in ancient Egypt was as amulets for the protection of the wearer from mysterious hostile forces. These might manifest themselves in tangible forms such as noxious animals, crocodiles, snakes, scorpions and the like; or they might take a less visible shape and appear as disease, accidents and such natural calamities as flood, storm and drought. To protect himself against such inimical powers, the ancient primitive, like his modern counterpart, tied charms to his wrists, ankles, neck, waist and other vulnerable points. 

Such talismans might consist of various stones, such as the carnelian, turquoise and lapis lazuli, that preserved within themselves the colour of life-blood, the fresh green of springing vegetation or the blue of water and the holy sky-realms. The pebbles had to be perforate before they could be attached by linen cords or leathar thongs; thus the stone pendant was introduced and later supplemented by various shaped beads in such artificial materials as pottery, green or blue glazed steatite, glaze quartz frit ('faience') and glass.
 
Limestone relief from the Saqqara tomb of liar-em-hab showing him is receiving many gold collars of honour from the King.Among such magic substances must also be include gold, which was probably first found as shining granules in river sands. Gold could be worked by comparatively simple means and fashioned into gleaming beads and objects that never lost their lustre but seemed to retain within themselves all the fire and glory of the sun. No wonder, therefore, that the flesh of the very gods was believed to be made of this eternally shining material.
 
The claw`s birds of prey, and other ferocious creature.  Other horns and tusks of wild animals, were also thought to contain magic virtues that could be turned to the advantages of the possessor of such disjecta membra; and prehistoric amulets often take these forms though only the bird claws survived as the amulets of historic times and even they are not found after the Middle Kingdom.
 
Another natural product that aroused primitive wonder was the shell of fresh- and sea-water animals Bracelets could be ground out of the conus shell. Th cowrie shell with its indented lip has the appearance of a half-closed but ever-watching eye and was therefore thought to be, by sympathetic means, a prophylactic against the evil eye, a belief in the blasting powers of which is still widespread around the shores of the Mediterranean and in East Africa. Even in recent times Nilotic women have worn aprons sewn with cowrie shells to protect the pelvic organs from the aborting and sterilizing effect of a malevolent gaze. The cowrie shell and the cowroid design were used in ancient Egypt for the same purpose though in time they were supplemented and replaced by the wed jell eye of the sky-god Horus which, with the scarab, is probably the commonest amulet found in ancient Egypt.
 
Huy receiving Tut-ankh-amun's signet
The 'Eye of Horus' was but one of a whole host of symbols that came into existence with the invention of hieroglyphic writing and could have significance as protective devices. Thus an object fashioned as the sa-sign, a rolled-up papyrus shelter with the meaning 'protection', could be used as a general defense against any hostile force. Moreover, other symbols could play a more positive role, and the ankh (a sandal strap) or the tyet (a girdle tie) or the died (a column of trimmed papyrus stalks) could promise their bearer life', 'welfare', 'en-durance' and the like. Small images of the gods, or their familiar animals, could place the wearer under the direct protection of the deity. Lastly amulets in the form of glyphs could be combined into brief mottoes or expressions of good wishes, or the names of kings regarded as protective deities. Such compositions are particularly characteristic of the Middle Kingdom jewels from Dahshur and Lahun; but many of the jewels from the tomb of Tut-ankh-amun are also designed upon elements forming the name of the king.
 
The amuletic character of Egyptian jewelry underlies most of its forms and purposes, particularly in the case of that made to be placed upon the peculiarly vulnerable mummy of the deceased. Such funerary charms are often of a flimsy construction, consisting of thin layers of metal foil upon a plaster filling and having cheap substitutes for hard stone inlays or beads, since they were not called upon to suffer the abrasive wear of everyday life. Funerary jewelry, in fact, follows traditional designs which vary little from one age to the next, and which have been tabulated and often captioned in the pictures painted on the insides of wooden coffins in the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom, as substitutes for the real things or as supplements of them.
 
Jewels could also be used as an extension of their magic powers to enhance the sexual attractiveness of the wearer, in the same way as dress and cosmetics were employed. It is when the adornment of the person becomes paramount that the artistic aspects of the jewel become as important as its amuletic significance. Thus fillets and circlets were devised more to keep the hair in a pleasing shape than to protect the head. The artificial cowrie shells in the girdle around the waist could be filled with rattling pellets to give forth a seductive tinkle as the wearer swayed her hips in walking. Cunningly designed anklets and bracelets could enhance a slender limb or disguise a thickened joint.
 
X-ray photograph of the upper part of the unwrapped mummy of Kha, showing him wearing jewelry beneath his bandages, including earrings and a shebyu necklace of heavy metal beads probably of gold.
For such aids to beauty, wreaths, chaplets and collars of fresh flowers were an inevitable choice; and the industry of the florist must have been among the earliest and longest-lived in Egypt. A lotus bud was usually tucked in the hair of guests at feasts. Collars made by sewing flower-petals, leaves, fruits and seeds onto semicircular or penannular sheets of papyrus or strips of palm leaf were supplied as ephemeral decorations. Even the boatmen in the marshlands would take a handful of dripping water-weed with all its twined flowers and weave it into a chaplet to keep the hair in place against the gusts of the strong north wind. On gala days they might stick lotus blooms into such fillets and hang wreaths of the freshly picked flowers from their necks.
 
The jewellers early contrived to translate into less transitory materials the colour and design of such natural forms, and their creations underwent a constant development. Perhaps the two crowns from Dahshur one a naturalistic transformation and the other a more stylized interpretation of the floral archetype, are among their outstanding triumphs in this field. It is perhaps not without significance that the generic Egyptian word for 'jewelry' appears to refer to imitation plants and flowers.
 
As elsewhere, jewels could also be used to exhibit the status and wealth, and therefore the power and prestige, of the owner. In The Lamentations of 'power, the sage, in describing the effects of political decay and social revolution during the twilight of the Middle Kingdom which have turned his world topsy-turvy, bewails that 'gold and lapis lazuli, silver and turquoise, carnelian and amethyst are hung around the necks of slave girls while noble ladies walk through the land and house-mistresses are forced to beg.' Rich jewels in ancient Egypt could not be displayed on any scale of magnificence except as the rewards of the king: and it is clear that, as in modern Europe, one of the responsibilities of the Court jewellers was the making of valuable orders and decorations for bestowal by the Pharaoh upon favoured officials.
 
The Order of the Golden Collar was perhaps the oldest of such honors’, and one of the treasure chambers of Sahu-re's funerary temple has provided us with an early record (c. 2475 B.c) of the investiture by the king of his courtiers with collars, diadems and seals under the general description of 'The Award of Gold'. Sabni, one of the border barons of Elephantine, boasts how he was summoned to the Residence in Memphis and there decorated with 'the gold of favour' by Phiops II for leading successful missions into Nubia and the Sudan (c. 2200 BC). It also seems to have been the practice for the great feudal lords during the Old Kingdom to Ape their king in rewarding followers with gold ornaments. 

Pectorals of KheruefThus Neb-em-akhet, a son of King Mykerinos of the Fourth Dynasty, presents gold necklaces to dancers who entertain him on a relief in his tomb. In the New Kingdom, the 'gold of honour' had taken a different form and strings of gold disk beads were hung around the necks of the persons whom the king wished to honour on special state occasions. In some representations the recipient is shown bowed down under a number of such necklaces. Even in the fourth century BC a so-called Neo-Memphite relief in Cairo shows the award of gold collars of the earlier type; and it would be rash to claim that this is a purely fictitious scene harking back, in the archaistic manner of such reliefs, to an event which existed only in the past.
 
Another mark of rank was the Order of the Golden Fly, which first makes its appearance during the early New Kingdom under increased influence from Asia. This award, which appears to be of military significance, was given particularly for valour, and the soldier Ah-mose-pen-Nekheb, who fought under the early kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty, boasts that he received no less than six flies from Tuthmosis I. The order could apparently also be given to women, for Queen Ah-hotpe, who rallied the Theban forces at a critical moment in the struggle against the Hyksos hegemony, had three large boldly designed flies among her treasure. One at least of the queens of Tuthmosis III was buried with a necklace of small flies also in gold. Gold lions and bracelets were included in such rewards, which together with other valuable objects in precious metals, such as parade weapons, took the place of money in an age when coinage did not exist.
 
Such jewels were the work of craftsmen attached to the Court and were generally distributed by the king, particularly on such ceremonial occasions as his coronation and jubilees. In the tomb of Kheruef at Thebes, for instance, there is a scene showing Amenophis III presiding at the distribution to his officials of decorations or rewards in the form of gold fishes, birds and plants during his First Jubilee. The king, as the wealthiest and most active of patrons, would give constant employment to his gold-smiths and jewellers. 

They had to prepare complete parures not only for himself on his accession but also for his wives on their marriage to him, unless they were the daughters of foreign potentates, in which case their personal ornaments were evidently supplied by their fathers as part of their dowry. Nevertheless the three Syrian wives of Tuthmosis III had only one or two items of un-Egyptian design and nearly all their jewels bear the name of their husband who must have provided them. Gifts in the form of jewels, particularly of gold, were sent with dispatches to foreign potentates who sometimes commissioned work from Egyptian craftsmen.
 
The funerary jewels of the king and his relations would also have to be prepared as part of his burial equipment from the first years of his reign, and these would be of a more traditional and less individual design than the ornaments worn in everyday life. At the king's jubilees it would appear that new jewels were made; and both Surero and Kheruef are shown presenting pectorals to Amenophis III on the occasion of that monarch's jubilee.
 
Wed jet eye
We are also fortunate in having several of the carved gems made for insertion in gold bracelets for this same celebration. One specimen shows the diminutive figure of the donor, a high official, holding his fan of office behind Queen Tiye, and gives evidence that on such great occasions valuable gifts were offered to the Royal Family by their courtiers, either from their bounty or by virtue of the duties of their office.
 
Lastly, jewels could be made for purely utilitarian reasons. Massive cylinder seals of gold or hardstone mounted in gold and bearing the king's name were conferred on those high officials who were to act in the name of the Pharaoh during the Old and Middle Kingdoms. In the New Kingdom the seal was replaced by a heavy signet ring, the bezel of which bore the king's cartouche. Probably also to be included in this category of objects of utility are the men yet necklaces and counter-poises that were carried by great ladies or priestesses as symbols of their devotion to the cult of the goddess Hathor or her avatars.

 Writer – Cyril Aldred 
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