Use and Formation of Jewelry

In class this week we discussed a few different kinds of material culture that set apart Neolithic Egypt from Predynastic Egypt. One of the most interesting kinds of material culture for me was the beads that were made out of rocks and the time and effort that were put into making them where as today it takes a matter of minutes. I decided to do a little more research on the types of jewels that they used and the techniques they had to turn these precious gems into wearable jewelry.

The first article I found talked about how the ancient Egyptians were believed to have made the beads seeing as they had no metals to drill with. Looking at two Badarian pendants, they discovered that the beads were made with flint drills and one in particular was made with a tubular drill. This showed the evolution of the bead making process. Many of the beads they found were made out of alabaster, carnelian, rock crystal, and garnet. “…Out of 569 Predynastic beads, 38% were of hard stone.” (pg. 125) The article goes on to say that this increased use of hard stone clearly shows the presence of social inequality beginning to emerge between the Badarian and Naqada periods as the drilling of hard stone was time consuming and expensive.

Beads, Scarabs, and Amulets: Methods of Manufacture in Ancient Egypt, A. John Gwinnett and L. Gorelick (

The next article I found went beyond the Predynastic periods that we have been talking about and elaborated on the significance of jewelry and certain kinds of beads in Egyptian culture as a whole. It turns out that beads were used by more than just the dead or to symbolize power, but also held religious significance and were sometimes even used to ward off evil. “Gem carvings known as “glyptic art” typically took the form of scarab beetles and other anthropomorphic religious symbols.” Once again the difficulty of drilling hard stone is discussed and an alternative is produced: polychrome glass. This glass was used to make beads and also as a glaze for pottery or other kinds of beads. Some of the most used kinds of soft gems were “Carnelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, malachite, rock crystal (quartz) and turquoise.” Finally the article relates Egypt other cultures by discussing the connection that the color blue has a symbol of royalty. This explains the extensive use of turquoise in Egyptian jewelry in the dynastic eras.

The History of Jewelry : Ancient Egyptian Jewelry Design, (

2 thoughts on “Use and Formation of Jewelry

  1. Ashley Martin

    I am very encouraged by your pursuit of inquiry that has led you beyond the realm of this class. The study of beads and the attached symbology is extremely fascinating, especially when you begin to take color into account. In another anthropology course we discussed the popularity of indigo. Also, we discussed the use of beetles to make a vibrant red color. Those whom had access to both the indigo hues and red hues were extremely wealthy and in a grand gesture of wealth and opulence they combined to two colors to make purple, which has become highly associated with royalty.

    Within the ancient Egyptian culture I am curious as to how prominent the indigo was and what the associations with the color were in more descriptive detail than just royalty. Also, what other colors were popular? Are these colors often manifested in their jewelry and beads? Lastly, you made a distinction between beads, which symbolized power, and beads that were used for religious purposes. What was the formal variation between these two types of artifacts?

    I know I proposed a lot of questions but as I was reading I became increasingly curious and thus had all the more questions. This has encouraged me to begin my own further inquiry about Egyptian beads. Although, I am less interested in how the Egyptians assisted in the evolution of bead making but rather but it meant in terms of their impact and culture and trade relations. Perhaps it helped to reinforce their economy or maybe it was just a means of status within the community.

  2. wils1071

    First off, I’d like to thank you for choosing to listen to the little voice in your head to further research something you found interesting in class. I found your blog a delight to read and found the fact that the beads were made from a flint drill to be interesting. It reminds me that human beings do not need advanced pieces of technology to create something beautiful, and I find jewelry from ancient societies to be very impressive in my eyes because of how time and hard work had to be put into it. The people who made pieces in the History of Jewelry article you included undoubtedly spent a good chunk of their life perfecting the art. The thought of symbolism mentioned in the article behind the jewelry makes them even more impressive in my eyes. It gives us slight hints about the possible culture they had back then (we may never know exactly what their culture was like). It also opens the door to many different questions.
    Since the beads and carved stones were used not only in tombs but also had religious importance, it suggests there probably was some form of internal marketing system. What was traded among the members of the same society? Was it grain like the Egyptians traded with groups of people outside of Egypt for the stone to make the jewelry? Or was it something else? If the color blue was valued as a symbol of royalty, was it an original concept? Or did the symbolism come into Egypt from another culture through trade routes? We may never know the answers for these questions (at least not completely), but that’s the fun behind archaeology: figuring out the importance of one element of the ancient society leads to new questions for other parts of it, which will never make an archaeologist’s career never dull. There will always be one more question within the society of interest to inspire them to get back out of the field and try to find the answer. Then a new door opens and the journey starts all over again.

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