If you're a fan of beads and beaded jewelry, ancient Egypt should definitely be in your time-travel plans. From pharaoh to laborers, Egyptians loved beads and piled them on at every opportunity. Beads of clay, glass, gemstones, precious metals, even bones, animal teeth and shells, and the particularly beautiful amulet necklaces and bracelets made of Egyptian faience. True bead-lovers wore entire fishnet dresses made of beads.
One of the hallmarks of Egyptian jewelry is the gorgeous blue and blue-green hues of Egyptian faience. Faience is a type of ceramic, but instead of clay, it's crushed sand or quartz. The beauty of faience comes from mineral pigments that create the distinctive colors that rise to the surface as the ceramic is fired. Faience was used for everything from jewelry to home decor. Small amulets made from it were strung between gemstone or glass beads for those familiar bib-style necklaces.
If you've seen Tutankhamun's treasures, you've seen his faience beads and protective amulets, still glowing that mysterious Egyptian blue.
Both clay and faience beads were made by forming beads around a string or reed. In the firing, the string burned away, leaving holes so the beads could be restrung.
Beads from outer space
In 1911, the tomb of a young boy was opened at el-Gerzeh. Among his jewelry were nine tube-shaped iron beads, which puzzled researchers because they dated from before the time of ironworking. Today's scientists scanning the beads discovered high concentrations of cobalt, phosphorous and germanium. In other word: meteorites.
Egyptian jewelry today
Egyptians still love their beads, and so does everyone else. They're still being made and sold in traditional "Cleopatra" style. Or you can raid the piggy bank and buy real antiquities. Mixed with modern beads, Egyptian beads add the exotic touch of an opulent past.
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