• Clare Thanhauser

The Ancient History of Jewelry


Sumarian Seal Ring with Rubies and Gold 2700 BCE

The story of jewelry starts deep in human prehistory.

Learning about the history of adornment is fascinating to me! It has ignited a feeling of connection to the past, knowing my love of jewelry was similar to my early ancestors.The oldest evidence of jewelry specific adornment dates back 82,000 years to the Grotte des Pigeons, in eastern Morocco where 13 carefully drilled Nassarius shells were discovered with distinct traces of red ochre paint. Similarly drilled shell beads have also been found in early human habitation sites elsewhere in Africa and in Kenya. Some beads were made from ostrich shells, and have been carbon dated to reveal they were made 40,000 years ago. The value of these object were clearly social and symbolic, but also certainly aesthetic.

Then around 7,000 years ago simple adornments started to be produced in copper- and whinin 2,000 years fine examples of gold and silverwork, including crowns set with polished gemstones were widespread throughout Mesopotamia and the middle east.

Jewelry serves many more functions than merely connoting status, its can transform and empower the wearer, it can be a token of love or acknowledgment of a milestone. The concept of an Amulet or talisman imbues jewelry with a distinctly protective force. The twinkle of these intimate belongings, works of wearable artwork have timeless appeal. It seems the desire for beauty is essentially fundamental to humans, and some of the most beautiful pieces of jewelry i have ever seen were made in antiquity. It is fun to draw inspiration from these things, and marvel at the continuity of the jewelry tradition in so many places in the world throughout time.

Greek Gold and Amber Crown, 300 BCE

Sutton Hoo, Anglo-Saxon

Gold and Garnet Shoulder Clasps

6th Century

Aztec Ear Spools c. 1460-1521 Mexico

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