Thursday, 7 February 2013

Ancient Jewelry Mesopotamia

These almond-shaped beads made of rock crystal were invaluable ornaments worn by royalty at the top of the social hierarchy in Uruk.
Jewelry traces its origins to Mesopotamia, the Cradle of Civilization. Also known as the Fertile Crescent the area is a huge arc in what is now known as the Middle East, stretching from the Tigris River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and north from the Persian Gulf to the mountains of Armenia. It was there that humans first domesticated wild animals and cultivated land. At the beginning of the Neolithic Period, in the seventh millennium B.C.E. the world's first villages emerged in this area; during the following two thousand years, the villages grew into cities, and the first urban civilizations formed. 

The structure and culture of that primitive society provides a context for the development of jewelry and the decorative arts.

This extremely larger pin was probably used to fasten a cloak. This shows the importance of animals in jewelry.  The name "Mesopotamia" is derived from the Greek words mesos for "between" and potomos for "river," referring to the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The inhabitants themselves never had a name for the entire region; rather, growing city-states were their reference points. Sumerian enclaves in the south like Ur, Uruk, Lagash, Kish, Girsu, and Eridu, were important sites. To the north were the Semitic Akkadian cities such as Kalakh, also called Kalhu, (Nimrud in Arabic), Dur Sharrukin (Khorsabad) and Nineveh Originally called Ninua).

In the third and fourth millennium B.C.E., Uruk was a major urban center, known for creating monumental stone architecture, early cylinder seals, and some of the first examples of writing. In 1912 German archaeologists began excavations of the ancient city. The most famous artifact, discovered in 1933, was the Warka Vase. It illustrates the structure of Mesopotamian society. The vase is dedicated to Uruk's most well-known patron, Manna, the goddess of love and war. 

The alabaster base is carved with images spiraling upward, with a river at the bottom, animals on the next level, then citizens, priests, and finally gods at the top. In April 2003, the vase was looted from the National Museum of Iraq, and n it was returned to the Museum three months later, it was broken into fourteen pieces. Its current condition is not known.

These disc-shaped carnelian and rock crystal beads are arranged in an alternating modern presentation.During the same excavation in which the Warka Vase was found, archaeologists discovered objects made out of gold, silver, and copper, as well as beads made from carnelian and rock crystal. The four single-chain rock crystal necklace featured on page 10 has been restored since the original find. The longest chain of the necklace is 3 feet 6 inches long, and the shortest Is 20 inches. Its layered composition looks as modern today as it was nearly six thousand years ago. Shown above is another find from the German excavation of Uruk: a necklace approximately 36 inches long made up of alternating rock crystal and carnelian beads. Toward the bottom the diameter of the rock crystal beads increases. Archaeologists believe that these two necklaces were votive offerings to the goddesses because of their length.

Rock crystal can have a very modern look, as evidenced in the almond-shaped rock crystal and quartz necklace on the opposite page. While the display of the crystal beads is contemporary, the variation in the sizes of the stones makes the jewelry timeless. In the original configuration, there would likely have been ceramic spacers.

Though all early Mesopotamian beads are now strung on modern structures, the combination of the gold, carnelian, and lapis lazuli here is particularly interesting to the eye.
Who could imagine that this necklace was created as long ago as 3500 B.C.E.? The necklace is from Tello (formerly called Girsu), located near Uruk and Lagash, which are some of the earliest sites excavated by the French ill 1877.

The necklace on this page, assembled with gold, carnelian, and lapis lazuli. is also from Tello, but it dates to 2600-2400 B.C.E. The accuracy of the composition of the necklace displayed today cannot be confirmed, but it is clear that the quality of the beads is extraordinary. The carnelian and lapis lazuli beads were created at great expense and generally reserved for royals.

In 1933, at an excavation site on the Euphrates River known as Tall Hariri, French archaeologists played a major role in discovering the ancient city of Mari. Here they brought to light the jewelry and cuneiform tablets from the Temple of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. Although Mari was located in Syria, its position as a trading outpost for southern Mesopotamia led it to be much more associated with Sumer. Man's sculptures of gods and goddesses are recognizable by their big blue Egyptian-style eyes.

This assortment of earrings was part of the burial gifts found in a pottery sarcophagus in Assur, the original capital of ancient Assyria. The earrings have a crescent shape with a soldered cone pendant.The two beads shown on this page, excavated from Mari, are made from gold sheets on top of bitumen, reinforced by a small bronze tube. With this technique, the creation of-larger beads were relatively inexpensive. Beads created using this distinctive process were also found in the royal tombs at Ur. In fact, according to an article authored by archaeologist Sir Max E. L. Mallowan, Agatha Christie's husband, there is evidence of close connections between Ur and Mari. The gold earrings shown on the opposite page, which were uncovered at the Palace of Mari, are also similar to gold crescent earrings discovered at Ur. Since the pin is thin, it may have been worn through the earlobe, or it is possible that it was placed around the entire ear. 

Mallowan believed that the jewelry found at Mari was part of a dowry belonging to a princess from Ur who was to be married to a Mari prince. Other pieces, like the necklace shown on page 28 were made with multicolored stones. It is interesting to note that some of the necklaces were worn by both men and women around the head or around the neck.

These earrings were found in the Palace of Marl and are similar to earrings that were discovered at Ur.
Beginning in about the third millennium B.C.E., amulets were worn to ward off evil or to promote fertility. Two such amulets, a bearded bull and a reclining calf, were excavated from Queen Pu-Abi's grave at Ur. Frogs and flies were important amulet motifs; page 29 shows a lapis lazuli frog, and a grey stone tortoise. The necklace on page 31, discovered in a ceramic jar in an infant's burial grave, consists of carnelian and agate. The center stone is in the shape of a frog amulet. 

The frog image was often used as a fertility symbol that was sometimes placed in the sarcophagus of a dead child to inspire a new birth. Another animal motif in Mesopotamian history is that created in America's southwest, the amulets of the eagle an example of which can be found on page 29. As late as 85o B.C.E., eagle-headed demons were depicted in Assyrian reliefs. Amulets are an integral part of the multistrand represents everyday objects.

The tombs of Mari contained several ornaments that were worn or used in the home. Necklaces like this one were worn either around the neck or the head.
The photograph on page 33 is of a string of beads made from fired and glazed steatite. Steatite also known as soapstone is high in talc necklace on page 32. Reminiscent of a necklace and rich in magnesium. It feels soft to the touch, and Native Americans as well as Mesopotamians made sculptures from it. During the third millennium Tepe Yahya in Iran was a center for steatite production. For use in jewelry, the material was cut into various widths, glazed, and then heated to make it extremely hard, helping the glaze to adhere to it. 

Soapstone was also used to create the double-sided pendant. One side of the pendant shows a person with raised arms. Who is under attack? Both sides oldie pendant features an animal with a dragon's head.

Small amulets were either carried or integrated into collars and were used for protection. Amulets in the shape of fish, frogs or tortoises are associated with "Enki/Ea': the god of underground water, as well as wisdom. The eagle is related to the celestial world and the gods of war.
The ancient cities of Mesopotamia established the first rules for organizing life, religion, and social status. It was in Mesopotamia that literature, music, astronomy, education, medicine, and architecture were born. Even the invention of the wheel and the measurement of time arc attributed to this place and period in history.

The central architectural element of the Mesopotamian cities was the ziggurat, a terraced Double-Sided Pendant Eastern Iran, late 3rd millennium to - early 2nd millennium B.C.E. Steatite H: 4.7 cm, W: 4.2 cm, D: 0.6 cm Musee du Louvre brick pyramid of successively smaller rectangular stories. 

Architects note that Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum was built to look like an inverted ziggurat. Ramps descended from a shrine at the top of the ziggurat to facilitate the gods' arrival on Earth during festivals. The receding lower levels were often painted different colors. Unlike similar works in Egypt, these ziggurats were never used as tombs for the Mesopotamians; also unlike the Egyptians. Mesopotamians did the gods on earth, the priests who served not consider their king a deity, but rather only a representative of the gods.

This necklace was found in a ceramic jar in Uruk, as part of the burial gifts for an infant. A frog-shaped amulet was often used as a symbol of new beginnings for the mother.
In 2300 B.C.E. the northern ruler, Sargon the Great, conquered Sumer and renamed it Babylonia. Sargon then made Agade the capital. In today's terms, his Mesopotamian kingdom extended from Turkey through the Persian Gulf in the south, and through Iran to Syria in the west. Mesopotamian society was divided into the gods, the patricians who owned land, the working population of merchants and farmers who did not own land, and the lowest-ranked the slaves. Marriage and family united each class of the community.

Prenuptial laws originated in Mesopotamia. Under the Code of I Hammurabi, the first king of the Babylonian Empire, a marriage contract was essential. It was accompanied by strict rules of behavior. For example if the wife could not bear classes. There were the kings who represented a child, the husband could divorce her but he would need to "pay a settlement equal to the value of the gifts he gave her father when they married, plus the dowry she brought from her father's house."

This necklace consists of ten rows of beads with amulets representing objects in everyday life.
Because the king was responsible for order on the behalf of the gods the Code of Hammurabi was accepted. It was inscribed on a seven-and-a-half-foot-high stone column for all the citizens to read. Education and schooling were part of Mesopotamian culture, so most citizens were literate and understood the harsh penalties inscribed in the column. 

Examples from Hammurabi's Code include an "eye for an eye . . ;" "if a free person kidnaps the son of another free person, the kidnapper shall be exe-c u ted:" and "if a free person accuses another free person of murder but cannot prove the charge in court, the one who makes the accusation shall be executed.- Today the column rests in the Louvre in Paris.

This string of beads made from steatite, often called soapstone, is typical of this period.Hammurabi's Code provides insight as to how gods and kings dressed. On the stone we see Hammurabi dressed in a long gown draped over one shoulder while the god (Marduk) is wearing a five-layer shirt. The king and the god are both wearing jewelry, typical in Mesopotamia.

Assur, also known as Ashur, was one of the capitals of ancient Assyria in northern Mesopotamia. The kingdom of Assur came to an end when Hammurabi incorporated it into his kingdom. During an exploration begun in 1898 by German archaeologists, a grave was found that contained gold finger rings and earrings. 

The beaded necklace on page 42 consists of carnelian, agate, and black and white limestone, and was also discovered in that excavation. The lower end of the necklace has a beautifully polished and banded agate stone. Also found in the grave excavation was the carnelian, agate, and lapis lazuli necklace on this page. 

Steatite was used not only to create necklaces, but also to create objects like this fascinating openwork pendant that features an animal with the head of a dragon on both sides of the central pillar.The necklace is dominated by the alternating agate and carnelian beads and is enhanced by the polished surface of the carnelian. which is so translucent that its drilled holes are visible. The three-ply pendant is not only beautifully cut, but the design of the bright red carnelian bead is unusual.

In the Neo-Assyrian period the Assyrian capital moved from Assur to Kalakh (Nimrud). German archaeologists discovered Assyrian objects that originated in the ninth through the seventh centuries B.C.E., including colored stones that were recovered from a burial site and restrung into three single necklaces. One of these, shown here, attracts attention because of the interplay between the blue lapis lazuli and the red carnelian beads. Archeologists also tillcovered silver earrings, like the ones on the opposite page. These are characterized by a lunar crescent ring with a single cone pendant soldered onto it. Triple-cone earrings were also discovered.

This small necklace consists of colored beads and is typical of the type generally given to the deceased.
It is clear from evidence documented by the work of great archaeologists and scholars that Mesopotamia was the wellspring of civilization in the West, if not the world. Foraging became farming; nomads became citizens whose rituals evolved into organized religions. Villages grew into cities with structured societies whose customs and craftsmen developed jewelry from glass and carnelian, then imported metals, and eventually precious stones. Let us now turn to those successive periods and peoples who were so influenced by Mesopotamia and who in turn exerted their cultures upon the world.

Writer – Judith Price
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