Silver jewellery is a common aspect of our daily life, but how did our forefathers handle trinkets and decorations in the past?
What were the silver jewellery alternatives if silver wasn’t available to be cherished and treasured?
In ancient times, jewellery and life were intertwined.
Because they preferred rare, costly, and readily produced gold jewellery and decorations, the ancient Egyptians didn’t have to seek far for a suitable replacement to the silver we all enjoy today. There were even special workshops adjacent to palaces and temples where wonders for the wealthy and powerful were made.
When it comes to jewellery, the ordinary population didn’t get much of a look at it at all, let alone silver or gold jewellery. The intoxicating symbolism of power and riches enjoyed by individuals in possession of such valuable jewellery is not for them. Green jewellery was worn in the land of the living to promote fertility and agricultural development.
The lush green emerald found locally in the Red Sea was Cleopatra’s favourite stone, but any silver needed for the not-so-common silver jewellery had to be transported from farther afield.
In ancient times, jewellery was associated with death.
For the famous and powerful of ancient Egypt, gold jewellery was not only essential in life, but it was much more important after death. Their Book of the Dead also mandated that the Isis necklace worn around the mummy’s neck must be crimson in order to satisfy Isis’ need for blood.
Stone Age Orkney Jewellery
The people of Skara Brae in Orkney were apparently utterly uninformed of the presence of silver jewellery or any other type of metal decoration at the same time that the Egyptians were luxuriating in gold jewellery 5000 years ago.
During a strong storm in 1850, the spectacular ruins of the stone age hamlet Skara Brae at the Bay of Skaill were uncovered beneath the sand dunes. Orcadians (Orkney locals) are accustomed to the ferocity of the storm force winds that regularly pummelled their islands throughout the winter – and even occasionally during the summer!
Not a piece of silver jewellery, but a broken string of beads was discovered at one of the village’s doors, indicating that the wearer may have departed in a haste – maybe to avoid vast volumes of sand blown up in a strong storm and invading the dwelling buildings. The same sort of storm that will resurface thousands of years later and disclose those houses to the world.
While the inhabitants of Skara Brae had no access to silver jewellery, they were making do with what they had – 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 valuable to them as gold and silver jewellery were to the Egyptians.
Jewellery made of silver from a bygone era
The Orkney people were erecting The Ring of Brodgar around the same period as Skara Brae, give or take a couple of hundred years.
This magnificent stone circle is the third largest of its sort in the UK, with 60 megaliths ranging in height from 7 to 15 feet. No one knows for sure what this extraordinary work of engineering and building was used for, but whether it was for astronomical, religious, or ritual purposes, there is no doubting the enormous amount of man hours that went into its development and the significance that was given to it.
Its mystery has lasted millennia, but its architects in 2500BC could never have guessed that their remarkable construction would one day be linked to a piece of silver jewellery that would be cherished and treasured by silver and gold jewellery enthusiasts in the twenty-first century.
Imagine their surprise and delight if they were presented with a beautiful, gleaming, smooth, and valuable piece of silver jewellery thousands of years ago, long before dealers in such goods arrived on the islands of Orkney.
How I wish I could have shown them the silver jewellery Ring of Brodgar ring, which is still lovingly and meticulously made in Orkney today. Visitors to Orkney from all over the globe, including Egypt, buy the Ring of Brodgar band as a wedding ring or as a treasured memory of a visit to the spectacular Ring of Brodgar.