Facts About Ancient Egyptian Jewelry

The jewelry of ancient Egypt was crafted with semiprecious stones, gold and copper.
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The ancient Egyptians highly valued personal adornment, and jewelry was worn by both men and women of all social classes. Statues of kings and gods were adorned with lavish jewels, and the deceased were sent off into the afterlife ornamented in the jewelry of the living. Earrings, bracelets, armbands, collar pieces, rings and anklets were all common types of adornments worn in ancient Egypt.

1 Metals and Materials

The main materials used to craft Egyptian jewelry were copper and gold. The masses could mainly afford copper, while the gentry preferred gold. Both materials were mined in the deserts of Nubia and were in abundant supply. Silver jewelry is rarely uncovered during Egyptian excavations as silver was not readily available in ancient Egypt. Egyptian jewelers used gold that ranged in shades from gray to reddish brown to rose. The variation in colors came from the intentional and natural mixing of elements like silver, copper and iron into the gold.

2 Gems and Stones

More lavish Egyptian jewelry was inlaid with various gems and semiprecious stones. Some of the more prized and favored stones were lapis lazuli, turquoise, garnet, carnelian, obsidian and rock crystal. Of the stones native to Egypt, emeralds and pearls were most commonly used. Another commonly used material, faience, was made of ground quartz mixed with a colorant that was heated and molded to imitate more expensive natural stones. The most popular color was a blue-green imitation turquoise.

3 Types of Jewelry

The most common and iconic ornament of ancient Egypt was the wide collar necklace. The piece was generally made of rows of beads shaped like animals or flowers. It stretched over the wearer from the breast to the collarbones. Pendants strung on beaded necklaces were also common, often bearing a protective amulet. Both women and men wore earrings, while finger rings were also very popular adornments for both sexes.

4 Protective Amulets

Amulets were incorporated into Egyptian jewelry or worn as independent pieces. Amulets are charms or talismans believed to either protect the wearer or infuse him with power. Egyptian amulets were carved into various forms and shapes, such as animals, humans, gods and symbols. The amulets were equally important protectors of the living as they were armor of the dead. Specific amulets were made for the afterlife, as funerary jewelry was customary in ancient Egypt.

Rachel Alexander is a cultural and political area specialist of South Asia and the Middle East. She received the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in 2011, and again in 2012, to live in northern India and study advanced Hindi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Loyola University of Chicago.