Silver jewellery is a normal part of our every day modern lives but what did our ancestors do for trinkets and ornaments in days gone by?
If silver wasn’t around to be coveted and treasured, what were those silver jewellery alternatives?
Jewellery and life in ancient times
Those ancient Egyptians didn’t need to look too far for a satisfactory alternative to the silver we all enjoy today because their preference was for jewellery and ornaments in rare, luxurious and easily worked gold. There were even purpose built workshops attached to palaces and temples where masterpieces were created for the rich and influential.
The general public didn’t get much of a look in when it came to jewellery, period, let alone silver jewellery or gold jewellery. Not for them the heady symbolism of power and wealth enjoyed by those in possession of such precious jewellery. In the land of the living, green jewellery was worn to ensure fertility and crop growth.
Cleopatra’s favourite gem of all was the sumptuous green emerald found locally around the Red Sea but any silver needed for the not so common silver jewellery had to be imported from further afield.
Jewellery and death in ancient times
Not only was gold jewellery important in life it was even more vital in death for the great and the powerful of ancient Egypt. Their Book of the Dead even stipulated that the colour of the essential necklace of Isis placed round the mummy’s neck must be red to quench Isis’ need for blood.
Jewellery in stone age Orkney
At the same time as the Egyptians were luxuriating in gold jewellery 5000 years ago, the inhabitants of Skara Brae in Orkney were, it would seem, completely unaware of the existence of silver jewellery or any other form of metal ornamentation.
The amazing ruins of the stone age village Skara Brae by the Bay of Skaill were revealed under the sand dunes during a violent storm in 1850. Orcadians (natives of Orkney)are well used to the fury of the storm force winds that batter their islands on a regular basis through the winter – and even sometimes through the summer!
Found in one of the doorways of this amazing village was, not a piece of silver jewellery but a broken string of beads indicating that the wearer might have left in an enormous hurry – perhaps to escape huge volumes of sand whipped up in a violent storm and invading the dwelling houses. The same type of storm that would reveal those dwellings to the world again thousands of years later.
So, whilst silver jewellery was a complete unknown to the inhabitants of Skara Brae, they were making good use of what they had available – small pebbles polished and sculpted by the almighty sea, and perfect little shells of varying shapes- to create delightful baubles and trinkets as unique and precious to them as the gold jewellery and silver jewellery was to the Egyptians.
Silver Jewellery from the ancient past
Around the same time as Skara Brae, give or take a couple of hundred years, the Orkney people were building The Ring of Brodgar.
This inspirational stone circle was built from 60 megaliths between 7 and 15 feet high and is the third biggest circle of its kind in the UK. No one knows for sure what the function of this amazing feat of engineering and construction was used for, but whether it was astronomical, religious or ritual there is no denying the incredible number of man hours involved and the importance that was attached to its creation.
Its mystery endures over the millennia but its creators in 2500BC couldn’t possibly have imagined that, one day, their incredible construction would be connected with an item of silver jewellery to be enjoyed and treasured by silver jewellery and gold jewellery lovers in the 21st century.