When I first started out on this project, I was very excited. As a glass artist studying mainly later period Viking age beads, I realized very quickly that for me to be more knowledgeable about glass and beads in my preferred time period, it was necessary to leap further back in time and look deeper into this history of glass. Who invented it? Who was making what and when? What techniques were used? Was glass that different then from now? All of these questions were running through my head. How was I to really understand glass in Scandinavia in the Iron age and in the Viking age if I didn’t have an understanding of the history of glass? I started researching glass production in Egypt and Mesopotamia. There are archaeological records of the earliest glass beads and glass manufacturing in these areas. We know from history that the Romans learned glass manufacturing and bead making through these resources. Roman glass production of beads and vessels made it to Scandinavia through trade and glass bead making appears in Scandinavia in the Iron age with more physical evidence of production during the Viking Age. So in my mind, they are all interconnected in a long and vast timeline.
I started looking online for various glass pieces that I could reproduce. The first items I created were 18th Dynasty Glass Egyptian ear plugs. Finding any information on them was very challenging. I found a blog post from the British Museum that had some information on them but also gave me insight as to why I could not find any documentation on any small Egyptian glass items. “Unfortunately, there is no pictorial, nor three-dimensional evidence, for how these objects were worn, nor do the archaeological contexts tell us much about their use. Most have been found individually, rather than in pairs, and those that appear on the art market and in private collections are usually without provenance (i.e. information about the context in which they were originally excavated or found).” I am as well finding this true as well for the pomegranate pendants.
From the ear plug project I wanted to look further into Egyptian ear jewelry to recreate. I did a google search on Egyptian earrings. Of course I got a bunch of Pinterest hits but nothing that had any links to anything with descriptions or anything that would be really helpful. Then I found pictures of a blue and yellow pomegranate ear pendant as well as a black and yellow pomegranate pendant. It had a link to the British Museum Archive. Overjoyed, I clicked on the link and this is what I saw.
Here is the descriptions of pendants.
Pendant 1: Pomegranate pendant: from a heavy loop in opaque turquoise-blue glass a pomegranate, inverted, is pendent. It is of the same glass as the loop; glossy surface. A yellow thread encircles the centre of the body and outlines the foliations which are so typical of this fruit. Once worn from wires through the ear-lobe. Height: 2.3 millimetres Diameter: 1.15 centimetres (of bulb)Height: 0.6 centimetres (of foliations)
Pendant 2: Pomegranate pendant: From a heavy loop in opaque black glass a pomegranate, inverted, is pendent. It is of the same glass as the loop, glossy surface. A thick yellow thread encircles the body in a dog-tooth pattern. Materials: Glass. Height: 2.06 centimetres Diameter: 1.62 centimetres Diameter: 1.6 centimetres (base)
My Glass Reproduction examples of the Pendants
First row are my reproduction examples compared to the bottom row of the Museum original Pieces.
Four photos of my replicas.
The history of Glass and in Ancient Egypt and how it was made.
In the 18th dynasty in Egypt, something amazing happened in the world of glass. The oldest known remnants of glass come from an archaeological site in Mesopotamia. The shards are 3,500 years old, and many experts assumed that this site was the source of fancy glass items found in ancient Egypt.
Chemical studies of the remains suggest how the Egyptians made their glass, the researchers say. First, the ancient glass makers crushed quartz pebbles together with the ashes of burnt plants. Next, they heated this mixture at low temperatures in small clay jars to turn it into a glassy blob. Then, they ground the material into powder before cleaning it and using metal-containing chemicals to color it red or blue.
In the second part of the process, the glass workers poured this refined powder through clay funnels into ceramic containers. They heated the powder to high temperatures. After it cooled, they broke the containers and removed solid disks of glass.
Egyptian glass makers probably sold and shipped their glass to workshops throughout the Mediterranean. Artisans could then reheat the material and shape it into beads, vessels and various glass objects.
The new evidence, uncovered in an Egyptian village named Qantir, however, shows that an ancient glass making factory had operated there. Artifacts from Qantir include pottery containers holding glass chunks, along with other traces of the glass making process. https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/glassworks-ancient-egypt
This map shows the Egyptian village Qantir, where a glass factory was located, and trade routes that would have carried glass from the Nile Delta to other parts of the Mediterranean.
Prior to this time period, the ancient Egyptians were making fake stones, vessels and amulets using a technique called Egyptian faience. (Egyptian faience is a non-clay based ceramic composed of crushed quartz or sand, with small amounts of calcite lime and a mixture of alkali’s. It is poured into molds cold and then heated to melt and solidify.)
Ancient Egyptian faience cup from 1550-1292 BC
Glass in Ancient Egypt:
Glass is a material made by melting together three primary ingredients. Sand (silicon dioxide) which forms its basic structure; an Alkali oxide, which lowers the melting temperature; and lime, which stabilizes the mixture and makes it less soluable in water.
The raw materials used in Ancient Egypt:
Pure silica has a melting point of 1700°C. Adding a flux reduces this to less than 1000°C, a temperature achievable with the help of bellows (a device with an air bag that emits a stream of air when squeezed together with two handles, used for blowing air into a fire.) which came into widespread use during the New Kingdom. Ancient glass was a mixture of the major constituent part, silica, i.e. quartz desert sand. (About half of the sand near Akhetaten, for instance, was made up quartz, about a third was calcite, the rest was feldspar, pyrosenes and small amounts of illmenite.) alkali, mostly from plant ash during the New Kingdom and often trona (natron) from Wadi Natrun or Beheira during the Graeco Roman period or more rarely potassium oxide, as flux,calcium oxide from limestone as a stabilizer, coloring agents. These were naturally occurring impurities or metal oxides added on purpose. The much coveted blue-tinted glass was made by adding cobalt. Yellow was the result of using iron and antimony, turquoise of copper or purple of manganese. Clear, almost colorless glass could be made by adding decoloring agents such as manganese oxide (MnO) as was done by the Romans. Lead (as early as the 15th century BCE, but much more common in Roman time.
Chart of Glass components from: https://www.cmog.org/article/chemistry-glass
After recreating the pendants, I was holding one in my hand and looking at it when I started to have more questions about the glass piece. Why a pomegranate? Why these colors? Was it the glass makers personal creative choice? Or.. Was there a possible deeper meaning to these unique ear pendants?
I proceeded to research pomegranates. When did they come to Egypt? Was there any symbolism behind the fruit to them? What I discovered was incredible to me.
The Symbolism of the Pomegranate in Ancient Egypt:
Most scholars believe that the pomegranate tree originated in Iran and the Himalayas of northern India. Early archaeological excavations demonstrated that the pomegranate was one of the earliest cultivated trees. Pomegranates were present in the Sumer Kingdom between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers as early as 4000 B.C. Pomegranate seeds were found in Early Bronze Age (3300 – 3000 B.C.) levels of Jericho in Canaan. Probably early traders who traversed the desert carried pomegranates. Besides being a trade item, the leathery skin of the pomegranate provided a long storage life;thus, the pomegranate could be used as a source of water and food on long treks. Around 1600 B.C. the pomegranate was introduced into Egypt where it was valued as a source of food and water and a red dye for leather. The pomegranate was found on walls of Egyptian tombs where it symbolized life after death. Pomegranate trees were plentiful in Canaan when the Israelite’s entered the land about 1406 B.C. (Deuteronomy 8: 8). The Canaan/ancient Israel pomegranate tree may have been substantially larger than the tree of today. I Samuel 14:2 records that King Saul (1050 – 1010 B.C.) camped on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree. King Solomon (970 – 930 B.C.) placed 200 bronze pomegranates around the top of each of the two bronze columns located at the entrance to the first temple (called Solomon’s temple). Around 700 B.C. Romans named the pomegranate Punicum malum or Phoenician apple because Phoenician ships carried the pomegranate throughout Mediterranean Sea countries. Carl Linnaeus (the father of Taxonomy) gave the pomegranate the botanical name of Punica granatum (1735 A.D.), or seeded apple.
The pomegranate has had deep symbolic meaning throughout the ages. In many cultures, e.g. Greek, Egyptian, Hindu, the pomegranate is a symbol of human fertility, procreation, life as well as life after death. Another example is in Song of Songs (song of Solomon) the pomegranate is mentioned several times and it usually symbolic of human fertility. The pomegranates positioned on the hem of the chief priest’s robe most likely had a more spiritual context. The Hebrew word for pomegranate tree and fruit is rimmôwn or rimmôn derived from the root râman which means to exalt, or lift or get(oneself) up, or to mount up.
After I found this information I wanted to find out if there was any meaning to the use of colors to the Ancient Egyptians. What I discovered was that there was significant symbolism to the use of color.
The Symbolism of colors in ancient Egypt:
The ancient Egyptians used six basic colors in varying shades of white, black, red, yellow, blue and green. All of the colors had specific meaning and significance to them. This symbolism was used in their art as well as textiles.
RED: To the ancient Egyptians the color red symbolized life, fire and victory and was also used to convey anger, hostility and chaos. The color red was deemed to be a powerful color because of its association with blood. The jasper stone symbolized the goddess Isis and was used to make the magic amulet or talisman called the Knot of Isis. The color red invoked the protective power of the blood of Isis.The symbolic scarab Talisman and Amulets often featured red stones and was placed in the heart cavity of mummies as a form of protection.
BLUE: To the ancient Egyptians the color blue symbolized the Sky, Water, the Heavens, Primeval Flood, Creation and Rebirth. The color blue is also associated with birth and rebirth because the annual inundation (flooding) of the River Nile brought fertility to the land. River gods such as Hapi were depicted with blue skin. Blue was often paired with gold in Egyptian royal regalia and jewelry such as the crook and flail, the royal symbols of authority.
GREEN: The Egyptian name for green was ‘wadj’ which also meant “to flourish”. The color green symbolized Fertility, Vegetation, New life, Joy, Growth and Regeneration. The papyrus plant symbolized fresh vegetation, vigor and regeneration to the ancient Egyptians. In ancient Egyptian papyrus lucky days were written in green ink. The green Feldspar stone was a symbol of fertility and was popular with theancient Egyptians as it was believed to bring good luck to the wearer.
YELLOW: To the ancient Egyptians the color yellow symbolized items that were Imperishable, eternal and indestructible. Any objects portrayed as yellow in ancient Egyptian art carried all of these meanings. Gold represented the flesh of the gods. Amber symbolized the sun and a protective amulet with the meanings of power of strength and harmony.
BLACK: To the ancient Egyptians the color black symbolized death, the night and the Afterlife, endurance and stability. The jackal-headed Anubis the god of the dead, tombs and embalming was depicted with a black head reflecting the meaning of death. Black was also associated with fertility and regeneration of the land.
WHITE: To the ancient Egyptians the color white symbolized Purity, Power, Cleanliness and Simplicity. The clothing of the priests was predominantly white symbolizing purity, even their sandals were white. Pearls were symbolic of purity and innocence and were once believed to be the tears of gods. The color white was also a symbol of Upper Egypt.
Based on the Ancient Egyptian color meanings, the pendants could have various other meanings and symbolism based on color selection.
Is the Pomegranate earring pendant with only decorative aspects or is it also an amulet with special meaning?
Pendant: Any object that hangs from an earring or a chain is a pendant.
Amulet: An ornament or small piece of jewelry thought to give protection against evil, danger, or disease. (charm, talisman, totem…)
After researching into the meaning of the pomegranate and the symbolism of colors, it is possible that the pomegranate pendant was not only a decorative ear pendant but an amulet that symbolized fertility. The glass pomegranate ear pendant examples that I have reproduced is most likely a fertility symbol. The blue could have represented birth and rebirth and the yellow could have meant eternal life or a gift from the gods enduring forever. It could also represent the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth. It could have meant a lot more to the wearer than a just piece of pretty shiny glass and had deep symbolic meaning. The Black and yellow pomegranate pendant also being a fertility symbol as well as life after death has a possible deeper meaning as well. The pendant has a black base which could have signified a loss of a child or it could have been the color for the fertility of the land. The yellow pattern around the black could symbolize eternal life with the gods or it could have been for protection from the gods. Imperishable, eternal and indestructible.
What started out for me to be an interest in just making the reproduction and having a better understanding on the history of glass, clearly blossomed into so much more than I could have imagined. This glass piece is beautiful as a piece of ear jewelry but it is potentially so much more. Scientifically, I can truly only look at the evidence that we have on this piece to what it is but it is a nice thought to think that it possibly meant more to this amazing culture and wasn’t just an earring. It is possibly deep rooted in the mystery, magic, and incredible culture of the Nile.
I hope that you enjoyed my blog post. Please check back often as I will be adding more projects soon!