Celebrating 20,000 years of Human Adornmen

[Pino Bianco, an Italian antiquities collector and archaeological consultant, has amassed an array of ancient gemstone and bead necklaces that made their first appearance in the U.S. at the JCK International Jewelry Show in Las Vegas in June. The following excerpts are from a speech he delivered at the GemFest Europa symposium in June in Vicenza, Italy.]

Since the beginning of time, after solving the problems of survival and realizing themselves to be different from the other animals, human beings started to think about enhancing their bodies with ornaments.

It is interesting to note how for ancient people, body ornaments came immediately after &endash; if not at the same time as &endash; essential tools linked with survival, such as eating implements. In very early periods, as far back as the Upper Paleolithic Period (about 20,000 years B.C.), people created their ornaments out of readily available material such as fish vertebrae, shells, deer teeth, bone, ivory and soft minerals such as soapstone.

The earliest jewelry probably had cult, “magical” or religious significance, which characterized ornamentation throughout ancient history. The ancients believed their adornments were charged with a significance that kept them in constant contact with the supernatural. Various gems and minerals were used as amulets to ward off disease. It was probably only later that jewelry began to be appreciated for its ability to signify wealth and status.

The ancients believed that jewelry helped them to cope with their own transient stays on earth. Through adornment, they built a bridge toward the unknown and the immortal, a symbiosis and communion between the finite and infinite. This significance is often lost in the modern world, as we tend to think that after us, there will be nothing. But after us, there will be other people. They’ll examine our objects, including our ornamental wares, to try to understand our skills and our sensibilities.

[The photographs on pp. 70-75 of the November issue of JCK show ancient necklaces from western Asia to the far reaches of western Europe.]

GEMS, BEADS & METALS
Sources in the ancient world

Northern England Jet
Baltic Sea Amber
Spain Obsidian, silver, iron and copper
Switzerland Rock crystal
Italy Coral
Africa Ivory and gold from sub-Sahara
Egypt Amethyst, glass beads faience, carnelian, emerald, onyx, topaz, garnet, gold and ivory
Persian Gulf Pearl and coral
Turkey Amethyst, jet, obsidian, gold and silver
Syria Colored glass and gold
Iran, Afghanistan Lapis lazuli
Burma, Sri Lanka  Sapphire, ruby and garnet
India Garnet, sardonyx, opal, diamond, quartz, onyx, agate and beryl