The Beginnings Of Jewelry

Jewelry is as old as the history of man, dating back from cave-dwelling times in South Africa some 100,000 years ago in the form of seashells being tied about the neck. Man’s original jewelry was also composed of teeth, carved stone, wood and bone. Function follows form as this type of jewelry was most likely used to tie loose clothing to the body and progressed to an aesthetic type of adornment. In much of the history of jewelry, the wearer displayed status and wealth by ornamenting the body with jewelry. Cro-Magnon man began making jewelry when migration to Europe from the Middle East transpired, 40,000 years ago. Metallurgy, the use of metals for jewelry making, appeared 7,000 years ago in the form of copper adornments.

The Ancient Egyptians along the Nile Delta began using gold for thousands of years, dating to 5,000 years ago. Jewelry was symbolic of authority and religious supremacy for many kings, queens and empires. The Egyptian men and women began wearing scarab beetles as sacred articles and protection from evil spirits. Scarab beetles represented rebirth, from the behavior of the dung beetle rolling its dung and incubating its young in this dung ball. The Egyptians used jewelry to adorn dead bodies which helped the dead in journeying into the afterlife, providing comfort and protection. Many tomb-raiders recycled jewelry by plundering tomb jewelry and adorning new kings. Pharaoh Tuntankhamen (King Tut) stands in history as the most famous jewelry-clad king although his 9 year reign from 1336-1327BC was fairly insignificant and most likely his tomb was forgotten when the Egyptians cleaned out the gravesites of other kings. Egyptians ascribed symbolic meaning to the color of gemstones. Green glass or gemstones were the symbols of fertility and was used to ensure the abundance of new crops. In the Book of the Dead it is written that the God Isis must be represented by a red stone or glass, worn as a figurative ornament on a necklace to provide Isis with blood. The Egyptians imported silver and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, which was used in many forms of jewelry. Queen Cleopatra was enamored with emeralds which was mined in the area of the Red Sea.

In the ancient city of Ur, located in southern Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, jewelry became a significant product to craft and trade. The people of Ur created amulets, necklaces, ankle bracelets and cylinder seals made of fine gold leaf and set with brilliantly colored agate, carnelian, lapis lazuli and jaspter stones. This jewelry was very popular and both men and women elaborately bejeweled themselves. Gem carving or glyphic art was popularized as children and women wore rings with beautifully carved stones. Mesopotamian jewelers invented some of the techniques still used in jewelry making and metal work today such as granulation, filigree, cloisonné and engraving. The motifs and designs depicted on Mesopotamian jewelry included cones, spirals, grapes and leaves. The jewelry of the times was worn by humans and used additionally to embellish idols and statues in reverence.