Gold Jewelry in Ancient Egypt
Gold is the softest and most malleable of metals. It appears naturally in its metallic form which can be worked into complex shapes with the simplest bronze, bone or wooden tools. From the earliest times it was sought after for its shiny golden color that many people believed to have spiritual or magical powers. And from the beginning it was fashioned into ornaments for personal adornment.
Egypt produced 80% of the world gold output in ancient times. They colonized Nubia for its gold and invented mining. One of the earliest surviving maps of the ancient world shows the locations of Egyptian gold mines, some of which reached depths of 300 feet. The Nubian mines alone produced over 4 million pounds of gold. In early Egypt, gold was strictly part of the sacred sphere but eventually Egyptians began to use their gold to increase their power and manipulate their allies. Near Eastern Kings, who lacked local sources, were always pleading with Egypt for gold. “Send me great quantities of gold, more gold than was sent to my father, for in the land of my brother, gold is as abundant as dust,” pleads Tshratta, King of Mittani. In exchange, they sent spices and other goods, betrothed their daughters and pledged support and alliance.
By the 2nd half of the 3rd millennium BC Egypt was circulating gold rings of standard weights as money. The Middle Kingdom, 2040-1730BC, marks a high point in the art of the Egyptian jeweler. Ajoure, chasing, repoussee, inlaying in cloisons and granulation were used. A cylindrical amulet case from 1900 BC shows the earliest example of soldered granulation, using a silver rich gold alloy. By this time jewelry had acquired elaborate amuletic, social and decorative functions. It is interesting to note that silver was rarer and more valued than gold because it had to be imported.
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