what can great antique jewelry tell us

what can great antique jewelry tell us?

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    During my study of ‘history’ I had to follow the subject of ‘archeology’ for at least one semester. After that period one was supposed to do two or more weeks of fieldwork. I was really looking forward to doing fieldwork, especially when I got an assignment in Dorestad (now Wijk bij Duurstede) in the Netherlands.

    In the 8th and 9th centuries, Dorestad was one of the richest and largest cities in the Netherlands and the most famous trade center in Europe. The Vikings thought this an interesting place to visit too. They robbed the place and left it in pieces. So a great place to look for old stuff and especially antique jewelry.

    The second place I was allowed to do some fieldwork was in the Valley of Kings in Egypt. I lived in Luxor and every day my donkey and I traveled over the sand dunes to work. Thrilling experience. But after in total two weeks of dusting, dusting, and again dusting, I had enough. Never was so much of a cleaning lady, no qualifications for that at all, not even now.

    Although the fieldwork was not so much my thing, the subject was. It is intriguing to see that archeologists can see how old a certain artifact is, what culture it belongs to, what material it is made of, and how it is produced. And where those artifacts come from before people could read and write (pre-history). Amazing.

    Archeologists have ways/tools to come up with a theory or even proof about the purpose, the age, etc. those finds. But there is one thing they cannot do, cannot find out and that is how people felt at the time that they could not write their feelings down. What their emotions were, their rituals, their religions, and their way of thinking.

    And here the finds of jewelry come in, let us call them ‘antique jewelry’ in this blog. Jewelry belonged to people in pre-historical times. Jewelry is found in graves, hoards, or just in the ground.

    Antique jewelry can find out about the identity of a person

    In this blog, I would like to show you how much we can figure out about the people, their thinking, and their beliefs when we find antique jewelry. Sometimes the archeological findings or antique jewelry is the only source to understand what happened in a certain period.

    Before I start a small warning. With the finds in general, but also with the finds of antique jewelry archeologists try to interpret history, the period that we don’t have any or not enough written sources.

    Sometimes we find some objects or artifacts that prove an event, but most of the time we have to be satisfied with a theory, that we refine when new evidence turns up. And the finds of antique jewelry make the formulation of that theory easier and more precise.

    Let us start at the beginning.

    Already in the very early days of human history people lived together in small groups or tribes and they all wore the same kind of clothing, made of the same material and style. There was nothing else available.

    But if you live in a group, you want to get your own identity within that group. And when that was not possible with the clothing, you start wearing jewelry. In the beginning that was simple jewelry, but whatever jewelry they came up with, it was a way to distinguish themselves from the other group or tribe members. We can find this primitive jewelry more easily than clothing since that will be lost most of the time.

    You show your personality with the style of your jewelry, the material it is made of, and the way you are wearing it. Here are some examples of antique jewelry, we have found, that give us more information about how the people in those lived and fancied.

    Antique jewelry made from natural sources

    In very ancient times people made their jewelry with the material they found in nature, and that could be anything. The only criterium was that the material had to be special (that means unique), shiny, or have a nice shape. And it had to be soft enough to make antique jewelry with simple tools.

    We have found antique jewelry made of feathers, bones, animal teeth, shells, and stones. But also human bones, which might reflect a ritual piece of antique jewelry or a jewel that had to give power to the wearer.

    In the Netherlands, we have found a decorated bead, made of the bone of a bird, that might be 130.000 old. It comes from the period that the North Sea was a grass steppe and the Neanderthals lived there. Even they wanted to have an identity of their own and make this bead.

    Shell beads found in the Bizmouna Cave in Morocco
    Necklace made of a herringbone, Malta 4500 AD
    Necklace made of a herringbone, Malta 4500 AD

    A piece of antique jewelry, that is a bit older, is found in Morocco in the Bizmoune Cave, and it is about 142.000-150.000 old. This piece is made from shells by a member of the Aterian tribe, that originally was covered with an ocher paint.

    Malta/Europe was once a very sophisticated society, older than the pyramids of Egypt (around 4500 BC). People used herringbones, but also nice stones or shells to make to most beautiful pieces of antique jewelry.

    Again in the Netherlands, archeologists found about 5 beads, dated around 2000-1800 BC, and they were astonished when they found out that the beads were made of the human shinbone. Probably to radiate a kind of power or protect themselves against demons.

    Beads made of the human shinbone, 4000-2500 AD, Huis van Hilde.
    Beads made of the human shinbone, 4000-2500 AD, Huis van Hilde.
    necklace made of bird feathers

    Antique jewelry made of precious material

    Time goes by and we start getting a bit closer to our time. People still want to identify themselves in the group and express their personality by wearing antique jewelry. The only difference is that the material and the tools to make pieces of jewelry get a bit more sophisticated.

    Not some nice objects from nature on a fiber string, but jewelry made from gold. Like this golden fibula or cloak pin, found in Southern Etruria (600-400 BC) or the fibula owned by a Frisian (Dutch tribe) made of gold and almandine, a type of garnet from 625 AD.

    Gold filigree fibulae, made in South Etruria, 600-400 AD
    Gold filigree fibulae, made in South Etruria, 600-400 AD
    Fibula of a Frisian noble lady, made of more than 300 almandines and enamel. 625 AD. The Netherlands. This a perfect example of how antique jewelry can tell you more about the owner.
    Fibula of a Frisian noble lady, made of more than 300 almandines and enamel. 625 AD. The Netherlands. This a perfect example of how antique jewelry can tell you more about the owner.

    All these archeological finds say something about people living in a certain period and a certain place. We find antique jewelry, primitive but still jewelry, from 150.000 years old.

    People living together want to distinguish themselves from other groups or tribe members, by decorating themselves and showing they are unique people, with special identities. To express themselves they wear jewelry, made of beautiful natural materials, made with a technique they manage.

    An archeologist is so happy when he or she finds a piece of antique jewelry to get to know the person better and that jewelry helps to identify the culture, the period, and the possibilities of a certain period.

    But antique jewelry can say more!

    Like something about fashion.

    This Frisian fibula is found together with other antique fibulae from this period (6-7th century AD) and it looks like there is some fashion trend in those days. All the fibulae are made from gold and decorated with red gemstones (most of the time almandine/garnets) and red enamel.

    This probably means that a piece of antique jewelry represents the personality of the owner, but she still wants to belong to the group she lives with. The fibula itself represents the taste, the identity, and the wealth of the wearer. But the style of the fibula says something about the techniques available, and the colors people liked in those days.

    Fibula found in Dorestad (Wijk bij Duurstede)/The Netherlands, 800-900 AD
    Simple bronze Roman fibulae.
    Simple bronze Roman fibulae.

    Like something about the marital status

    Imagine you are an archeologist and you find some old graves. Maybe there is some indication of the name and they can check whether it is a man or a woman buried and the age. But that is about it.

    What is the marital status of this person? In a lot of cases, you can find out when you find antique jewelry.

    If there is a ring on the ring finger of the right hand you know that this person was married, and was a Protestant. The same situation but the ring on the left hand and the person was a Catholic. Do you find rings like in the picture, then you might assume that this person was a Jew.

    Do you find a kind of golden stick with a charm on the end, near the head? If it is on the right hand of the head then this lady was engaged, and on the left hand, she was married. And they lived in the 17th century.

    Jewish wedding ring
    Jewish wedding ring
    left Elisabeth Stuart with a love lock made of hair. Right Amalia van Solms with a golden symbolic love lock and in het hair a betrothal pin (engaged)
    left Elisabeth Stuart with a love lock made of hair. Right Amalia van Solms with a golden symbolic love lock and in her hair a betrothal pin (engaged)

    Like something about the status in society

    The Pharaohs in Egypt used seal rings with their name to sign documents. Most of them could not read or write and high officials prepared the documents. The Pharaoh used a bit of wax and pressed his ring in the wax as a sign that he agreed to what was agreed in the document.

    If an archeologist finds a seal ring with a name in cuneiform, he/she knows that the person in the grave with a seal ring on his finger had a very high status in Egyptian society. And the name of that person is known.

    The same idea is when the archeologist finds a rich decorated sword made of special steel, that person is probably an important warlord.

    Very easy, that antique jewelry finds, if you need to make up a theory or want some evidence about what happened in those days, or who that person was.

    Egyptian gold signet ring owed by a Pharaoh.
    Scarab signet ring, often made from semi-precious gemstones, like lapis lazuli.
    Scarab signet ring, often made from semi-precious gemstones, like lapis lazuli.

    Like something about fashion and taste

    The easiest way to investigate what fashion or taste there was in a certain period is by studying clothing. But since clothes are often made of organic material they fall apart after time or wrong storing conditions.

    I already mentioned the fibula before. And if there is one piece of antique jewelry that is fashion sensitive, it is the fibula. You find this type of antique jewelry from very Ancient times until now.

    The fibula remained the same purpose, that is keeping coats or clothes together, like a kind of pin, zipper, or button. And we find them everywhere in Europe, Mesopotamia, and the rest of the Middle East. So an ideal object to see how fashion looked like in a period or what techniques were used to make it. There are more than 90 different types of fibula!

    In a certain period in Rome, it became fashionable to drape or fold your upper clothes. People used fibulae to accomplish that. Fibulae are in all kinds of models, made of all kinds of materials and shapes.

    In the European Middle Ages fashion was not so sophisticated as in old Rome, and bronze fibula was used to pin a tunic together on the shoulders or to keep a coat closed.

    And as mentioned before in the 7th century in Friesland (Northern province of the Netherlands) archeological finds proved that golden fibulae with red decorations were very popular.

    Decorated golden buckle or bracelet. Phoenisian from the 5th century BC
    Decorated golden buckle or bracelet. Phoenisian from the 5th century BC
    Gold combination ring of two stirrup-shaped hoops that form an oval bezel depicting a ship with rowers. Phoenicia/Malta 5th century BC.
    Gold combination ring of two stirrup-shaped hoops that form an oval bezel depicting a ship with rowers. Phoenicia/Malta 5th century BC.

    Like something about the wealth and technical abilities

    If you find a grave filled with golden antique jewelry, you might assume that this person was wealthy. But if you find a whole graveyard full of graves with golden objects then you may have proof that the society had a high level of prosperity.

    That was the case with the Phoenicians, that lived in the Lebanon of today. Between 1500-400 BC they were very rich due to their trade with countries around the Mediterranean. They used a lot of gold to make antique jewelry and also the techniques used to make this jewelry was of a very high standard.

    Have a look at the pictures in this blog. One of them is part of a clasp or bracelet. The gold is hammered on a positive (that’s upright) relief so that the image ended up on the piece of antique jewelry.

    The golden ring contains two parts that just don’t touch each other. It depicts a boat with rowers (look at the peddles). The finesse and detailing are stunning. And imagine that ring is very small not more than 1 centimeter or 0.3 inches wide.

    Like something with evidence of trade

    There are a lot of theories that the inhabitants of Friesland and the Netherlands traded with the surrounding countries. But finding antique jewelry that originate from these countries probed that the theory was true.

    There are so many examples of that trade. Like the gold hoard of Wieuwerd (Friesland/The Netherlands) from the 7th century AD. We find gold coins from Constantinople (now Istanbul/Turkye) and Byzantine Empire. The Frisians used the gold coins to make pendants with a gold edge, made of dismantled gold coins. Probably some gemstone beads were placed in between, otherwise, the coins would be in the way.

    In a Frisian grave from about 600-1 BC, we have found a bronze choker, decorated with two fish heads at each end. Bronze is not a material that originated in the Netherlands. It is a combination of tin and copper and both materials are not available here.

    The bronze antique jewelry and other objects originated from Scandinavia, the Southern part of Germany, or countries near the Alpes.

    Pendants made of Roman gold coins. Found in the hoard of Wieuwerd/The Netherlands, 7th century.
    Pendants made of Roman gold coins. Found in the hoard of Wieuwerd/The Netherlands, 7th century.
    Bronze choker with two fish heads at each end. Found in a grave in Frisia/The Netherlands, 600-0 BC.
    Bronze choker with two fish heads at each end. Found in a grave in Frisia/The Netherlands, 600-0 BC.

    The examples above show that archeologists get to know much more about men themselves, about his/her status, wealth, religion, and identity when they find a piece of antique jewelry than when they find the outline of a house or farm, an old Roman road, or a crock. They can interpret the situation better with antique jewelry finds.

    Where to find antique jewelry?

    Then I would like to mention something about the locations where you can find antique jewelry. More or less there are 4 options. And I don’t count the option of a piece of antique jewelry that is by accident lost, and where there is no context or indication of the origin at all.

    A lot of antique jewelry is found in graves, as a mourning gift. People believed that you had to look good in the hereafter, so you needed your jewelry to accomplish that. Or you needed them to pay for the ferryman that gives you a lift over the river to heaven.

    It might be also a matter of respect for the deceased. If you lived wealthy or you were an important person in society, you ought to take some of your precious goodies to live after death.

    A lot of antique jewelry was offered to the gods to ask for health, a good harvest, or to beg for something. Offerings were put into the ground or water in pots or small leather purses.

    That occurs a lot in the province of North Holland/The Netherlands because at the time there were a lot of swamps. The antique jewelry sank into the ground or water and only reappear when the land dries up or when the moor is excavated. We find quite a lot of hoards buried for centuries in this way.

    The third option why you should bury your precious jewelry and gold or silver coins is when there was a danger, for instance when the Vikings turned up in the country. There were no banks or safes in those days, so the safest way to keep your belongings away from enemies is to bury them in the ground (and for us to find them).

    And the last option to find antique jewelry is when you find a lot of gold or silver coins or pieces in a bag in the ground. Most of the time a gold or silver smith worked there and he need to keep his stock safe from robbers.

    Just as antique jewelry can tell something about someone’s personality and identity, modern jewelry can do that too! FlorenceJewelshop designs and produces handmade unique jewelry. Unique in the sense that every design is used only once. So when your jewelry comes into the hands of an archeologist in about 5 to 6 centuries then he or she knows a lot more about you than only your birth and death date. And that is what we want, don’t we… not forgotten.

    The easiest way of getting not getting forgotten is to wear exclusive and unique jewelry. Start doing that by looking at https://florencejewelshop.comhttps://florencejewelshop.com. The second you could do is download free of charge the FlorenceJewelshop Trend Book. So that everybody will notice you are a lady of the world! And not to be forgotten. Just let me know to whom I can send it

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