Egyptian and Roman Jewelry at the Kelsey

Egyptian Faience Necklace at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, drawn by Ellyn Marmaduke

Egyptian Faience Necklace at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, drawn by Ellyn Marmaduke

After last week’s group tour to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, I had to decide which artifacts to focus on.  One of the first display cases we stopped at had this beautiful faience necklace worn in Egypt between 1991-656BC.  How many of you know about FAIENCE?  The word sounded vaguely familiar but was totally out of context.  Still, I was drawn to the beautiful blue color and vowed to learn more.  Turns out that Egyptian faience is very different from French faience, which is that pottery with the detailed painted decoration on it.  Egyptian faience could better be described as a combination of clay and glass.  It’s the oldest known type of glazed ceramic.  They can track its existence back to 4000BC.  It molds like clay, but its chemical make-up is powdered quartz.  Since quartz is basically silica(silicon dioxide), the same main elements as in glass, a better phrase for Egyptian faience would be glassy paste or sintered quartz.  The “faience” was glazed with a blue or green vitreous coating, perhaps to resemble turquoise, which was highly prized at that time.

The other jewelry pieces I wanted to learn more about were Roman rather than Egyptian.  They were described as LUNATE and BULLAE.  Again, I felt totally confused by the words.  Our guide told us that young girls wore the lunate pendant, the one that’s shaped like the crescent moon.  Young men wore bullae pendants, the hollow, pillow-like pieces in the upper right of the drawing.

Roman Lunate and Bullae Jewelry displayed at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, drawn by Ellyn Marmaduke

Roman Lunate and Bullae Jewelry displayed at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, drawn by Ellyn Marmaduke

Jewelry has often been used to silently tell the wearer’s status.  Females wearing a crescent moon were known to be unmarried virgins.  The young moon meant a fresh start, with hopes and wishes for a bright future of matrimony.  For thousands of years the moon has been a feminine symbol–the waxing (crescent) moon, the full moon, and the waning moon were associated with a young maiden, a matron, and the elderly woman.  Since maidens in that time period married between the ages of 12 and 17, this was not a necklace they wore for very long.  Young males were given a bulla to wear soon after birth.  It had two purposes.  It was believed to protect them from evil spirits.   In the Roman culture, children were seen as being very vulnerable and needing protection. It also let others know that the child was freeborn rather than a slave.  Wealthy boys had bullae of gold while poorer boys had ones made of leather, but anyone with a bulla was free.  These pendants were worn until manhood, at age 16.

These were just a few artifacts found at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Each one tells a wonderful story if you have the time and inclination to do some digging.  It was fun finding out more about these pieces of jewelry.  And I always love learning the meanings of words!  I hope you can go to the museum and find your own fascinating stories.

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Category: Gold jewelry, Historical/Antique and Vintage Jewelry, Silver jewelry

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