History of Jewelry - Paleolithic through Roman times|
The earliest ornaments in the Mediterranean evidently appeared in the Paleolithic Age: seashells were pierced with suspension holes. Jewelry as we know it today – beads, pendants, earrings and bracelets – began to be produced in the Neolithic Age which lasted from 6800 to 3300 BCE. During this period, adornments were made mainly from stone, clay, bone and seashell. Metal ornaments were extremely rare at this time, but some have been found around Thessaly and Macedonia that are quite beautiful: dangling earrings made of cut leaves of gold and silver bracelets that wind up the wrist like slinkies.
During the next thousand years or so, Minoan goldsmiths created intricate pieces involving filigree and granulation, often based on naturalistic representations of animals and insects, and by the middle of the Bronze Age, new types of ornamentation had begun to appear in Greece, as well as more sophisticated techniques. Semi-precious stones began to be incorporated into the designs. Complicated engravings of scenes from battles and hunting have been found on some pieces dating from the height of the Mycenaean world. Many such pieces were gold plates intended to be fastened to the dress of royalty.
Much of what we know of ancient jewelry-making techniques and products derives from funerary situations: graves found in Greece and of course Egyptian pyramids. Egyptian funeral rites dictated that mummies were dressed and ornamented with a view to comfort in the afterlife. Owing to the elaborate care that the Egyptians bestowed on the preservation of their dead, we have a lot of information about their jewelry design. Egyptian wall paintings are also quite revealing about fashions of the times. Jewelry-making seems to have reached its peak in Egypt within the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties of high Egyptian history and many of the most famous pieces date from that period: Queen Ahhotep’s collection of ornaments dates from the 16th century B.C. and is among the richest and most various troves of intricate treasures in the world.
One major aspect of ancient Egyptian jewelry was that in addition to ornamentation, it generally served allegorical purposes as well. Among symbolic emblems, the scarab or beetle was very commonly represented in jewelry found in tombs. This insect was associated with life and rebirth, as was the god Khepera whose form was that of a gigantic scarab and whose duty it was to roll the sun like a huge ball through the sky, renewing its light to give life to the world. The ankh was another of the most powerful symbols in Pharaonic Egypt: a symbol of life often carried by gods and Pharaohs in surviving depictions from the time. Also quite popular was the symbolic eye of Horus the hawk-god, the cobra, which was an emblem of divine and royal sovereignty, the tet, an emblem of endurance and the human-headed hawk, an emblem of the soul. Another popular motif for pendants was the lotus flower.