Ancient Egyptian Jewelry

Tassie Bills
Jewelry in Ancient Egypt
ART 1040-001
In ancient Egypt jewelry was made of crystals, shells, stones and colored pebbles from
the desert; gold, silver and copper were also sometimes used. Metal workers discovered that
they could extract metal from an ore by crushing the ore and heating it in the fire until the metal
separated and ran out in a molten state. Egyptians believed that the jewelry would provide
protection so they made it out of durable materials so they could wear it while they worked.
They used natural stone to make beads or amulets they also traded with others to get stones that
weren’t found in the Egypt area. They used leather or cords of linen or animal hair to string
beads. If the necklaces had more than one strand of beads they would use small pieces of bone
or other materials with small holes drilled into them to hold the strands together.
All amulets were believed to hold some kind of power depending on the colors of the
stones that were used. They also used animal bones, teeth, horns, and claws in amulets to
provide magical protective powers. Amulets also included small figures of gods, goddesses,
magic symbols, and small models of things people may need in the next life. Amulets were not
always used as pendants some were used as hair clips such as fish shaped amulets were used in
children’s hair to guard against accidents in the Nile. Some pendants were made to imitate
shapes of shells and other natural objects in gold. Some amulets required that a priest say a
magic spell over them in a certain way at a certain time for them to work properly. Only Kings
and Queens were allowed to wear certain jewelry such as the Sign Of Life because it was
believed it had the power to give life or take it away from lesser mortals.
To make beads they would carefully break the stones into fragments of the required size
and then grind them into various shapes using sandstone or quartz slabs. They would then take
the bead and use a drilling tool that worked from both ends towards the center. The drills
consisted of a thin wooden rod with a flint tip that was forced through the stone by rotating it
while holding the handle at the top. They also made beads out of gold, silver, copper, brass and
small quantities of meteoric iron. Gold beads were made by hammering nuggets into foil and
used the foil to make straw like tubes. Gold could also be cut with flint knives and twisted to
make ornaments or chains.
Beaded necklaces made up of several strands of beads and worn to fit closely around the
neck were worn by only women; they also usually had a broad beaded collar. Armlets were
worn together so that they covered almost the entire forearm. Anklets were also worn by only
women and they wore them on both ankles. They were usually only worn by the upper class and
on harem women and dancers. Anklets were worn to protect against all dangers emanating from
the ground.
Egyptians used faience objects which are made from thick paste of sand mixed with ash
or lime with a bright blue glaze on the outside. They mostly used this process to create small
figures of animals and people. They also used enameling in their jewelry to provide a glassy
coating to metal or other surfaces. The Egyptian Jewelers would gouge the metal out with a
chisel to fit the inlays precisely, and then they would cement the cut stone in place. Gold was
highly valued by Egyptians it was thought to be the work of the gods. Only the wealthiest
people wore gold jewelry. Although silver was not found in Egypt it was imported and used to
make jewelry.
Egyptians used blowpipes to help heat the fire to melt gold and to anneal the metal. They
also used flat and rounded stones to beat out the gold foil and gold leaf. They also used tools
such as copper chisels for cutting gold foil and for incising metal to take colored inlays. Tweezer
shaped pliers of copper were also used. Craftsmen needed talent for invention, along with skill,
persistence, experience and a sense of the insignificance of the time exhausted. Glass beads
were formed around a wire from a heated rod of glass. Molten glass would be pressed into
molds and placed in the fire. After being cooled down and cut into a shape the inlays were
cemented into place.
Jewelry reached a great artistic height during the Middle Kingdom. They made beautiful
bracelets, rings, girdles, wristlets, anklets and necklaces out of gold and semiprecious stones,
such as amethyst, turquoise, lapis, garnet, and feldspar. They also made Pectorals which were
decorations that were worn on the chest. One of the most popular amulets was the scarab which
was a dung beetle which stood for the hope of rebirth in the afterlife.
In almost all Egyptian jewelry there is a hint of gold, the mines between the Nile and the
Red Sea cost yielded large quantities of this precious metal. Goldsmiths could beat it into the
shape or cast it in molds. They also used granulation to make patterns; this is the process of
soldering tiny grains of gold to the object. In many pieces of Egyptian jewelry they had things to
symbolize who the person was that wears the piece or what they want for their life such as a
cowrie shell shows that the person wearing the necklace has a desire to have children.
Jewelry was placed on the dead to help them in their journey to the next life. Wealthy
people had jewelry made of solid gold while poor people had jewelry made of carved glass or
even straw. They placed an ornament over the heart to protect it from evil spirits. They would
also create gold create solid gold masks to put over the dead Kings such as King Tutankhamun’s
which had a solid gold mask with inlaid semiprecious stones and glass. They would also fill the
Kings tomb with other elaborate jewelry to provide for them in the afterlife. They also believed
that the Kings would still be the king in the next life and they wanted to be on their good side in
the next life.
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