People have used artifacts to adorn their bodies for many thousands of years. It is thought that recently found examples of shell beads found in Morocco, which have been carbon dated at 85,000 years may not be (as was first thought) the earliest use of jewellery – researchers in Israel have found even older examples dating upto 135,000 years old, each with strong evidence that these shell beads have been modified with hand tools and coatings for use as jewellery.
These early examples of jewellery were merely natural objects which had been either polished or painted with natural pigments. These sorts of techniques have been developed and refined over the Centuries and are still seen today, with a growing number of modern jewellers experimenting with these traditional materials and techniques to create pieces of jewellery which are both beautiful whilst offering a minimum of environmental impact.
It’s clear that the need to adorn the body with jewellery has been around since Man has been able to associate symbols with meanings, which is a very long time now!
Jewellery Techniques Over The Millenia
Jewellery has taken many forms over the past millenia, with many techniques being still used today. The oldest examples of jewellery utilised natural materials and were modified using simple handtools, with shell, bone and rock being used alongside clay, wood and even plant matter. These simple and biodegradable materials can produce jewellery of staggering beauty, however some (apart from rock based items) don’t have the longevity of later jewellery items and so weren’t given the sort of worth as jewellery made from minerals or metals.
The Ancient Ainu and Jomon people of Japan were known for producing jewellery from glazed pottery and shell which even today is considered to be very fine, however it wasn’t until around 7000 years ago that Gold, Silver and other precious metals are known to have been used for making jewellery. One of the oldest known finds of gold jewellery, dated at around 4,700 BC was unearthed in Bulgaria, showing that gold beads, necklaces and bracelets were used even then, and it’s clear from the quality of the jewellery that metalworking skills were already well developed at this time, which suggests that even earlier finds should be possible.
Ancient jewellery is known to fulfill roles of both adornment and ritual purposes, from which our modern necklaces, bracelets and rings are derived. It seems even in past millenia, these areas of the body were seen as special and deserved some adornment! Thankfully, some of the jewellery rituals exhibited in the past haven’t survived, like the use of decorative sheaths for the male organs which were apparently used in ritual and in burial.
Changing Face of Jewellery
It was the Ancient Egyptians who first are thought to have brought what we would call jewellery into an artform. The massive use of Gold as decoration in all forms of Egyptian royal life provide us with a wealth of artefacts to marvel over, all encrusted with jewels and using a very pure grade of Gold and Silver. This kind of jewellery production was obviously only for the very wealthiest of people and it’s very unlikely that the Egyptian populus at large would ever see these pieces in everyday life, which is why you see a mix of jewellery styles from this period, some precious metal based and some utilising base rock, wood and mineral.
Jewellery pieces from Ancient Egypt and Persia show us what was possible with simple tools and crude refining techniques even 5000 years ago, techniques which we still utilise today to create contemporary jewellery from Silver, Gold and Platinum.
What can we learn from this kind of history? Well it’s clear Human ingenuity and social interaction has been around for a very long time and it’s not, as was thought, that civilisation suddenly arose 45,000 years ago. The urge to adorn has been around for at least twice this time and maybe a lot longer!
This post was written by a guest contributor. About the Author:
Parriss jewellers are a well established jewellerers who have been trading since 1869. Parriss offer unique silver jewellery and a range of handmade jewellery items utilising Silver, Gold and Platinum.