Silver was much more scarce than gold in ancient Egypt, making it an extremely valuable and rare commodity. The precious metal was used for a variety of things, including jewelry making. Similar to gold, silver was often hammered into thin sheets to product leaf that could be used to adorn a wide range of materials. However, unlike gold, not much has survived and is not often found in archeological excavations or records.
Silver was utilizes to make beads as far back as the Pre-dynastic Period (4400 – 3100 B.C) and continued to be used in Egypt until the Graeco-Roman Period (332 BC - 395 AD). Although a rare commodity, it was an important metal for the fashioning of personal ornaments, jewelry and cult items. Gold was used abundantly in ancient Egypt due to the fact that it was mined domestically in the Eastern and Nubian deserts. However, the ancient Egyptians’ source of silver is still unknown but was certainly imported from neighboring lands as there was a scarcity of domestic geological resources. It is primarily for this reason as well as the fact that silver is very sensitive to the corrosive salts present in the Egyptian environment, it rarely appears in Egyptian archaeological records, compared to gold or other more popular metals such as copper.
Due to its pale yet shiny appearance and tone, the ancient Egyptians associated silver with the moon—gold represented the sun. They also associated it with ritual purity and believed the bones of the gods were made out of silver.
An early example of Egyptian silver comes from the burials of women from the temple of king Mentuhotep II during the 11th Dynasty as Thebes. Almost all the silver found is in the form of small beads as mentioned above. However, when Herbert Winlock excavated this burial site in the early 20th century, thy also found a peculiar sa-amulet made of intersecting silver and electrum wires secured with bands of electrum.
The first evidence we have of jewelry in ancient Egypt dates backs to the Pre-dynastic period, around 4000 B.C. Jewelry was unisex in ancient Egypt! Women and men alike cherished jewelry and heavily-adorned themselves with a wide array of rings, bracelets and necklaces.
The ancient Egyptians placed important value on lavish personal adornment. Jewelry was popular across all social classes; however, the type of jewelry varied widely depending on one’s wealth. The mighty statues of kings and gods were decorated with lavish jewelry.
The Egyptian royalty adorned themselves with ornate necklaces, pendants, belts, hair beads, bracelets and amulets. The most preferred pieces were designed usually in the shape of symbolic animal and deities. This included most notably scarab beetles, jackals, tigers, birds, cats and antelopes. Royalty and noblemen wore their exquisite luxurious jewelry as well. This tradition of securing expensive jewelry in hard to reach places has prevented them from being found by thieves. This has allowed archaeologist to uncover massive quantities of these prized items, all perfectly preserved!
Gemstones were integrated into almost everything in ancient Egypt. Status of pharaohs and gods were lavishly embellished with gorgeous gemstones. The deceased were dressed with gemstone jewelry to carry with them to the afterlife. Ample examples of the ancient Egyptian’s jewelry styles are illustrated on reliefs and tomb murals.
The ancient Egyptians were able to procure all types of precious gemstones; however, they were more inclined to using semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, turquoise, jasper and malachite. This is because they are softer, thus more malleable and easier to shape.
The color of the gemstones was quite important to the ancient Egyptian, since particular colors were thought to bring good luck and protect against evil. In ancient civilizations, the color blue was often representative of royalty. Hence the name royal blue! This was the case in Egypt, making lapis lazuli one of the most coveted gemstones gemstone due to its brilliant blue color.
Lapis Lazuli was truly one of the most treasured semi-precious stones. It had divine connotations, believed to be of godly importance. In fact, it is believed that Queen Cleopatra herself used powdered lapis lazuli as a sort of exquisite eye shadow.
Along with Lapis Lazuli, Turquoise was one of the most prized gemstones in Ancient Egypt. Turquoise was mined from the Sinai Peninsula. In fact, this practice of extracting turquoise from Sinai still goes on today. Turquoise was adored by royalty and was often worn in necklaces by the pharaohs. It is a stunning opaque gemstone thought to represent happiness and tranquility. The iconic burial mask of King Tut was inlaid with semi-precious stones including lapis lazuli, turquoise and carnelian.
It was popular to carve turquoise into the shape of the sacred scarab beetles for protection. The scarab beetle was one of the most significant religious symbols in ancient Egypt, associated with the mighty sun god, Ra. The Egyptians viewed the scarab as a symbol of renewal and rebirth. The beetle was associated closely with the sun god because it rolls large balls of dung to lay their eggs, a behavior that the Egyptians thought resembled the progression of the sun through the sky from east to west.
Most of the raw material needed to make gemstone jewelry was sourced locally in Egypt or in its surrounding territories. However, valuable gemstones such as lapis lazuli were imported from lands as distant as Afghanistan.
Emeralds are some of the most beautiful precious stones found in Egypt. It was the favorite gemstone of Queen Cleopatra. She often gifted emeralds shaped like her to foreign officials! The ancient Egyptians really loved their gemstones! Emeralds were mined by the Red Sea. Egypt was the primary provider of emerald well until the 1500s. The ancient Egyptians associated emeralds with renewal and immortality.
Egyptian silver jewelry is immensely popular today. With access to an abundant supply of silver, modern Egyptian jewelers are recreating exquisite jewelry pieces from antiquity using high-quality sterling silver. These pieces are handmade and unique. Silver jewelry is more affordable than gold but also does not deteriorate. Adorn yourself with lavish, ornate silver jewelry, embellished with authentic with the beautiful collection of Egyptian jewelry for sale at our online shop!