Ancient Jewellery: From Neanderthals to Now

Ancient Jewellery: From Neanderthals to Now

Jewellery has been around for longer than we realise, stretching back to our very distant ancestors when we were yet to invent the wheel. Over the centuries this form of decoration has evolved with the times, becoming much more detailed, elaborate, and using more durable and dazzling materials. Our extravagant adornments we see and wear today had humble beginnings as ancient jewellery, starting off what we could consider to be one of the first fashion trends.

Perforated sea shells, ancient jewellery

The first jewellery to ever be created was by the Neanderthals – a group of archaic humans who roamed around before homo sapiens came to existence. 115,000 years ago, they crafted their necklaces and bracelets using perforated beads of sea shells and egg shells, and chiselled rings out of stone and marble. The early modern humans in 11,000BC created jewellery utilising bones, teeth, berries and stone hung on pieces of string or animal sinew. These humans also crafted the first ever brooch, carved with human bone remains used to hold clothes together.

Around 7,000 years ago, the first evidence of metal jewellery came to light. Cooper was found amongst a grave of a female jewellery worker, which changed the face of jewellery forever in history, as well as marking a change in gender roles with a woman in a profession which was thought to be dominated by men.

Egyptian pendant, ancient jewellery

The ancient Egyptians were the first to utilise and master the art of gold jewellery crafting, preferring luxury and rarity over accessibility and durability. The symbolism of jewellery took a new face, suggesting political and religious power as only the wealthy and high ranking could afford such luxuries. Wearing types of jewellery also began to have certain meanings, for instance wearing green suggested fertility and wearing gold to the grave brought good fortune to the afterlife. The introduction of coloured glass and semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli gave a colourful addition to this era.

Greek Necklace, ancient jewellery

The ancient Greeks started using gold and gems in 1600BC, and crafted beads into shapes such as animals and shells. The Greeks brought about beautiful brooches, arm rings, pins, wreaths, and earrings. They also turned jewellery into a form of reward, by crafting the ‘Gold Olive Wreath’ in the 4th century BC, which was given as a prize to winners at athletic competitions such as the Olympic Games. The Greeks were known for their simplistic yet elaborate designs, showing true craftsmanship utilising amethysts and pearls, and more metals such as bronze. The jewellery worn was supposed to ward of the ‘evil eye’ and show off a woman’s beauty and wealth.

The Middle Ages brought about amulets and signet rings, and bejewelled weaponry was on the rise for men. These jewellery pieces were commonly found in their graves as an offering to the gods – one young girl was buried with 2 silver fibulae, a necklace with coins, bracelet, gold earrings, a pair of hair-pins, comb, and buckle. Garnet was incredibly popular in this period, probably due to its intense colour representing power, lust and blood.

Napoleon Diamond Suite, ancient jewellery

When the renaissance period struck in the 17th century, exploration and trade was on the rise brining about the expansion of crafting materials as well as the cross over of art cultures. Jewellery trends across the nations intertwined and evolved from one another, and creative expression thrived.  Large stones were frequently set in box-bezels on enamelled rings, and the production of suites became popular as monarchs and emperors wanted matching sets for their wives to wear with their extravagant outfits. Costume jewellery was birthed in this period and brought about a clear separation of craftsmen: jewellers who worked in cheaper materials were called bijoutiers, while jewellers who worked with expensive materials were called joailliers, a practice which continues to this day.

There are so many periods of history which brought about change and creation to jewellery, forming what we know of it today. As countries mingled and intelligence grew amongst the people, so did our style and designs in more beautiful and grandeur ways. Now with so many fabulous designers all across the world and intuitivist thinking outside of the box, sustainable and recycled materials are on the rise and artificially produced gemstones are being utilised. Its an exciting time for the luxury industry, and potentially another turning point in history for these remarkable fashion items.

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Written by Victoria Fletcher

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