Jewelry In The Making: Beads In Ancient Egypt

In a previous blog, I stated that beads are universal across all times and throughout all of history. More evidence that beads are universal is that almost everyone in ancient Egypt, both men and women, wore beads from predynastic to Ptolemaic times (c. 2100-30 B.C.). Throughout Egyptian history, amulets – jewelry worn to protect against evil, harm, and illness, and to bring good fortune (dictionary.com) – were very important. In the dynastic periods, the word most commonly associated with amulets was “mk-t, or ‘protector’, and udjat, ‘the thing which keeps safe,’ and ‘the strengthener’” (Dubin, 1995:14). It was believed that all the different shapes of beads helped the one who wore them with his/her particular situations in life and the afterlife. From the Fifth to the Twelfth Dynasty (2494-1786 B.C.), amulets were almost universally used in personal jewelry (Dubin, 1995).

Some amulets represent particular gods and were believed to impart the special qualities associated with those gods. The frog goddess, Heqet, for example, was considered the patroness of birth; the udjat, also known as the Eye of Horus, had strong amulet powers, while the djed pillar stood for endurance. Amulets in the forms of human anatomical parts were thought to protect those body parts in the living. Furthermore, some beads were made of materials considered especially protective; in particular, garnet, carnelian, and crystal (Dubin, 1995:14).

The meanings of these amulets in Ancient Egypt probably explains the fact that almost every article of clothing and every part of the body was covered with beads. In Egypt, it was also believed that the deceased have to be surrounded by everyday items in order to ensure comfort in the afterlife. The quality of the materials that were buried with the deceased was dependent upon the wealth of the family and large quantities of amulets were buried with the deceased as well (Dubin, 1995).

In addition, because beads were so meaningful to the Egyptians, they were depicted on the statues of the gods. The Egyptians had their favorites, though, which included gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, and turquoise. Egyptian lapidary artists were the ones who made certain colors of stones popular. The colors that became popular were the ones that had the most talismanic value for the Egyptian lapidary artists (Dubin, 1995).

Faience, which is a low cost type of ceramic, was used to produce most of the Egyptian beads and they are considered to be the forerunner of glass beads. Because they were inexpensive and they could be made to look like precious stones like turquoise and lapis lazuli, they were the first mass produced synthetic material used to make beads. As a result, beads became affordable to almost everyone, which in turn meant that those who were not wealthy were able to adorn themselves with beads that looked like precious stones worn by the wealthy! (Dubin, 1995).

If you would like to give wearable art gifts that are natural, handmade, unique, and incorporate glass beads and/or stones that are meaningful to you or the beautiful women in your life, please visit my shop page at www.WirednTwistednStoned.com/shop, or contact me for a private jewelry consultation at elizabeth@WirednTwistednStoned.com or (919) 649-2123.

Dubin, Lois Sherr. 1995. The History of Beads: From 30,000 B.C. to the Present, Concise Edition. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated.

Beads

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