Egyptian Jewelry: Ancient Amulets Blur the Secular and the Religious

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Ancient Egypt Jewelry

Many examples of Ancient Egyptian jewelry have survived to this day because the Ancient Egyptians made no distinction between jewelry, and amulets worn for protection.

In November of 1922, the English archeologist Howard Carter broke through the wall to King Tutankhamen’s tomb, and in the process started a fashion craze that is still going strong today. As the world watched, Carter’s archeology team began removing wondrous treasures that were left by the Ancient Egyptians to aide a god-king in the afterlife. Before long, those treasures began to influence architecture, artistic styles and jewelry.

Although the Egyptian influence on architecture and art has faded, jewelry modeled after the necklaces, rings, bracelets and other ornaments brought out of King Tut’s tomb are still popular. This is hardly surprising, given the volume of jewelry found in the tomb. The Ancient Egyptians made no distinction between jewelry for ornamentation, and jewelry of a religious nature. Amulets were worn both for decoration and function throughout life and into death. And the Ancient Egyptian jewelers selected the components for the meaning that each precious metal and stone held.

Glass in Egyptian Jewelry

When you consider the wealth of Ancient Egypt, it may surprise you that glass was a highly prized medium for decoration. That’s because unlike precious and semiprecious stones, the Ancient Egyptians could work with glass very easily. While stones could be difficult to shape and polish, glassmakers had a formula to reproduce the color for each gemstone. Glass was made into beads, as well as enameled onto decorations and set into channels for collars and pectorals.

The meaning of Color in Egyptian Jewelry

Because each color had a meaning in Egyptian religion, each stone and metal in a piece of jewelry carried a deeper meaning as well. Malachite was connected to health, while Green jasper represented the rain and growing things. Although silver was used in jewelry making, Gold was considered to be the skin of the gods and was used as often as possible. Even lower classes would make fake reproductions that resembled gold.

Use of Amulets in Egyptian Jewelry

Amulets were a very important part of Egyptian Jewelry. Egyptians spent most of their lives collecting jewelry that they could be buried with for protection in the afterlife. Amulets were incorporated into the designs of the jewelry. They might be stamped into rings or hang as trinkets from a bracelet or anklet. Common amulet shapes included the Ankh, which was a symbol of life, or the scarab which represented rebirth. Scarabs were often carved from green stones and placed on the chest of the diseased at the time of burial.

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