History of Gold

Gold and gold jewellery and even the beginning of the desire to have – own or be adorned by gold or gold jewellery can be traced back over seven thousand years.  The Roman period of goldsmiths can be seen from texts and pictorial evidence and the introduction of precious metal i.e. gold or gold coinage date as far back as 600BC.

The ordinary layman would be keen to buy gold and jewellery and gold jewellery and in the sands of time proof of this is found in Egypt as well as Mesopotamia.

This can be traced by way of such artefacts as the Papyrus documents which illustrate aspects of life in Egypt in the Roman period.

It is fascinating to realise that the man in the street purchased gold as well as jewellery and this can be cross referenced by documents of that time.  One clear example of that period is a purchase order for a pair of coiled gold snake armlets by a customer and specific historic documents confirm that money was exchanged and given directly to the goldsmith for the purchase of the gold.

Elaborate gold jewellery also dates back to Sweden from the sixth century AD as well as work from Pompeii where funerary was made in gold, although not an everyday style but more so as gold necklets, gold rings, gold earrings as well as gold snake rings were around that period.   

It has to be mentioned, gold was all the fashion, more so then as garments of jewellery worn by humble people to pieces shown in the Byzantine period and earlier.

It is remarkable that gold jewellery was probably more fashionable then for decorative reasons.  A typical example of this is of a seven thousand year old necklace which was excavated in Arpachiyah, modern Iran.  This necklace was made from part of Obsidian a natural black glass which was extremely rare and naturally volcanic, so to polish it in those days considering what tools were available is even more remarkable. Again it was the gold that became the focus of jewellery and there were huge amounts available.

During the period 730-843 AD techniques such as filigree and granulation were often used.  Filigree was an intricate openwork often used in  Byzantine brooches. It is also worth mentioning that silver was also treated as an equal metal in some areas.

Some of the oldest pieces of gold jewellery which have stones in them, have been found in Babylonia and in places such as the tomb of Queen Pu-Abi where the jewellery dates back to 2,500 BC. This was discovered as recently as 1922-1934.  The gold was of extremely high quality as well as being diverse in designs, with some pieces made of pure sheet gold. i.e. gold earrings, fine gold necklaces and some pieces inset with lapis lazuli, cornelian as well as agate.

There have been many remarkable discoveries of early jewellers, one of the most remarkable was a sealed jar dating from 738BC. Within the jeweller’s box of tools were gold jewellery, lapis lazuli, scrap silver, gold weights, and a seal giving the name of the original jeweller.

This box was found in his workshop and is the only evidence in the ancient world of a named jeweller.  The site of the workshop was situated in a temple in Larsa (now part of Iraq).

I will be returning to the subject  of gold jewellery the history, design, fashion and influences in my next editorial.


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