International Framework / Weltweites Zellwerk

Deutsche Version | Team

Changes in the cultural significance of early medieval gemstone jewellery considered against the background of economic history and the transfer of ideas and technologies

In large parts of 5th- to 8th-century Europe, thousands of items of jewellery were decorated all over in a red gemstone: garnet. As characteristic as this style is for these centuries, closer inspection nonetheless reveals not only regional variations but also differences in its social relevance. At the same time a phenomenon, which has so far received little consideration, manifests itself against the backdrop of the “Dark Ages”: In the centre of Frankish-Merovingian Europe the workmanship of this so-called cloisonné style changes from lavish, abundantly supplied, all-over cover of red garnet platelets of oriental origin to a more simple variant employing only individual chips of “indigenous” Bohemian garnet. Continue reading International Framework / Weltweites Zellwerk

Technical experiments 2: Creating the foil pattern


As I already described in my first article I purposed to produce the waffled structure by impressing intersecting lines. I was inspired by a special technique used in leather working to create decorative lines with a tool called creaser. But for the fine foil pattern a common modern creaser was too rough. After some experiments with a blunted knife edge I modified two riffle files whose working surface was v-shaped in cross-section. I ground off the cut and polished the lower edges.

Fig.1: Riffle files with polished working edges: a: “knife-shaped face, b: diagonal square-shaped face

 Foil Materials:

1. 935/000 silver sheet, material thickness: 0,03mm (See my article: “Producing a piece of silver foil”)

2. tin foil, material thickness: 0,03mm

Work surface material:

The third relevant component was the surface on which the foil has been worked. It had to be flexible, so the foil could be deformed. I did some preliminary tests on small boards of pine and beech wood and on deformable pitch, usually used for repoussé work. Because of its structure pine wood proved to be unsuitable. The beech wood and the pitch were both too hard. Finally I found two better materials which were much more appropriate:

1. beeswax

2. sheet of lead (1mm)

The foil has to be fixed on the working surface. That was no problem in case of the beeswax, which has itself enough adhesive power to hold the foil in place. On the lead I fixed the foil with the help of adhesive tape. A more authentic way could be the use of an organic adhesive like hide glue or a mechanical attachment.

Impressing the pattern:

The first step was to form parallel lines by running the tool along a ruler by a forward movement. Then the same action was repeated after turning the work piece by 90 degrees.

Fig. 2: Tracing the lines


The result was a waffle pattern! However it could have been more regular. But perhaps with some more practice it could be improved.

Fig. 3 a+b: work piece, tin foil on beeswax, knife-shaped tool, backside

Fig. 4 a+b: work piece, tin foil on beeswax, knife-shaped tool, frontside


The tin foil proved to be too soft. There was no increasing of hardness after the deformation, so the pattern could be crushed easily.

The silver foil was a little bit rigid even after repeated annealing. But against my expectations it could be well processed on both work surfaces.

Sometimes I traced the lines twice or I started with the knife-shaped tool and retraced the lines with the diagonal-square-shaped one.

There are remarkable parallels in irregularities between my work pieces and original foils:

Fig. 5a: workpiece, silver foil on lead, knife-shaped tool, retraced with diagonal-shaped tool
Fig. 5b: disc brooch, Rödingen LVR Landesmuseum Bonn 56.445, 0-2
Fig. 6a: workpiece, silver foil on lead, knife-shaped tool
Fig. 6b: disc broch, St. Severin, Römisch-Germanisches Museum Köln 50.287
Fig. 7a: workpiece, tin foil on beeswax, blunted knife edge
Fig. 7b: disc brooch, Monsheim Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum O.15370


It is definitely possible to produce a more or less regular waffle pattern in the way described above. Probably the result could be improved if a double edge creaser is used, that makes it easier to form regular parallel lines.

But more experiments with different materials are necessary to allow significant comparisons with the original foils. It would also be interesting to see if boxed waffle or ring-and-dot pattern could also be made in that way.

Warrior Treasure: the Anglo-Saxon ‘Staffordshire Hoard’ after seven years of research

Chris Fern MA FSA, The Staffordshire Hoard Project

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest ever find of Anglo-Saxon treasure, of gold, silver and garnet objects, at around 5kg. It was found in 2009 by a metal-detectorist and became an international sensation. Following seven years of conservation cleaning and reconstruction work, some seven-hundred objects have now been identified, from an original 4500 fragments. Most are fittings from richly-decorated swords, which were the possessions of warriors and maybe even princes and kings. Some were decorated with the sacred symbols of gods, both pagan and Christian. Other objects include a rare helmet and a small but significant collection of Christian items, including pectoral and processional crosses. Dating to the 7th century AD, the hoard shows us an early England that was wealthy and capable of great artistic achievement, but in an age of violence and warfare, and driven by the politics of the warband.

Dienstag, den 18. Oktober, 18.15 Uhr

Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum – Vortragssaal

Im Rahmen der Vortragsreihe “Weltweites Zellwerk”

See the full program here!


Foto: (c)

Gemstones and Gem Deposits of Sri Lanka – with special emphasis on Geology, Occurrence , Varieties and Mining.

Dr. Gamini Zoysa, Ceylon Gemmological Services

Sri Lanka has long been known as one of the world’s most important gem producing countries. Specially as a leading source for fine quality Blue Sapphires & its other varieties. The genesis of gemstones in Sri Lanka has been a subject for much discussion. The gems are mostly mined from the alluvial deposits underlain by Precambrian metamorphic rocks. The main gem bearing areas are confined to the geological division called highland complex which is located in the central part of the country. Over 3200 legal gem mines have been in active operation in the past years. The depth of the gem gravel in a shaft may vary from 10 to 25 meters. There are also evidences for occurrence of primary deposits of Sapphire, Moonstone , Aquamarine, Garnet within the island. In addition to the major commercially viable gem varieties such as Sapphires, Garnet, Chrysoberyl, Topaz, Zircon, Moonstone, Tourmaline, Beryl, Quartz there are over 80 varieties of nontraditional gems are recorded.

Dienstag, den 25. Oktober, 18.15 Uhr

Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum – Vortragssaal

Im Rahmen der Vortragsreihe “Weltweites Zellwerk”

See the full program here!


Foto: (c)

Auf der Suche nach dem Karfunkelstein. Granatabbau und Verarbeitung im heutigen Rajasthan, Indien.

Dr. des. Borayin Larios, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

talks about his field trip to India where he was searching for garnet mines and gemstone cutters in contemporary Rajasthan.
In this region garnet has been mined already in the early Middle Ages when it found its way to Europe.

Dienstag, den 11. Oktober, 18.15 Uhr

Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum – Vortragssaal

In diesem Vortrag werden die Ergebnisse der im Jahr 2014 durchgeführten Feldforschung in Rajasthan, Indien im Rahmen des Projektes „Granat in historischen und archäologischen Quellen aus Südasien“ vorgestellt. Dabei wird versucht durch eine systematische Suche nach archäologischen und historischen Zeugnissen in Südasien den Weg des Edelsteins von der Mine bis zum Hafen nachzuvollziehen. Das Material, welches hier vorgestellt wird, dokumentiert, unter anderem, die Abbauquellen für Almandin-und-Pyrop-reichen Granatstein, so wie auch die rezenten und traditionellen Verarbeitungstechniken von Granat in regionalen Minen in den Distrikten Tonk und Ajmer und Edelsteinschleifereien in der Hauptstadt Jaipur. In dieser Region wurde bereits im frühen Mittelalter Granat abgebaut, der seinen Weg bis nach Europa fand. Das indologische Forschungsprojekt ist am Südasien-Institut der Universität Heidelberg beheimatet und Teil des „Weltweiten Zellwerk“-Projekts.

This is the abstract of the presentation held during the lecture series in summer/autumn 2016.

See the full program here!

Historic England in the early middle ages


The blog brings together the results of five different projects concerning early royal residencies in England between 300 and 800 AD.

In Lyminge the University of Kent is doing large-scale excavations in the area of the monastery. The site shows the patronage of Kentish royal dynasty in 7th century AD.

Rhynie is supposed to have been a early royal centre of the Picts during 5th and 6th century AD. The investigations are done by the Northern Picts project at University of Aberdeen.

“Yeavering: A Palace in its Landscape” is a project at Durham University. Through a geophysical survey the hill fort and the settlement from the 6th-7th century AD have been investigated to develop a further survey.

Sutton Courtenay/Long Wittenham is supposed to have been a centre of the early West-Saxon Kingdom which emerged by the 7th century AD. The project is coordinated by Helena Hamerow of University of Oxford, who kindly held a lecture at our “Gemstones in the First Millenium” conference.

Rendlesham, five miles from Sutton Hoo burial site is examined since 2008 by metal detecting to investigate the East Anglian royal settlement from 5th to 8th century with support from various institutes.

Garnet brooches – Jewellery for women in their prime of life?

Deutsche Version

Today I would like to present to you a blog concerning different archaelogical topics: “Archaeologiskop” by Dr. Doris Gutsmiedl-Schümann.

In particular one post is of special interest for the topic of our blog.  The post is titled: “Auf den Spuren unserer Vorfahren: Archäologie frühmittelalterlicher Gemeinschaften am Beispiel der merowingerzeitlichen Bevölkerung von Aschheim, Lkr. München” and was published 06/25/2015.

Blogpost by Doris Gutsmiedl-Schümann

It deals with an early medieval cemetery on the countryside near Munich with ca. 450 burials dating from ca AD 480  to ca AD 680 . By analysing the finds and including the anthropological data, like sex and age of the deceased, Doris Gutsmiedl-Schümann could show a distinction of grave goods varying with the age of the deceased. With respect to our project the observations regarding garnet brooches are of special interest. These were obviously limited to women who have reached the high point of their social development.

Read the full blogpost here:

Granat -Fibeln: Schmuck für die Frau in den besten Jahren?


Hier möchte ich auf einen Blog aufmerksam machen, der verschiedene archäologische Themen behandelt: Archaeologiskop von Dr. Doris Gutsmiedl-Schümann.

Besonders ein Beitrag ist im Kontext unseres Forschungsprojekts interessant. “Auf den Spuren unserer Vorfahren: Archäologie frühmittelalterlicher Gemeinschaften am Beispiel der merowingerzeitlichen Bevölkerung von Aschheim, Lkr. München” wurde am 25.06.2015 veröffentlicht und behandelt das frühmittelalterliche Gräberfeld Aschheim-Bajuwarenring im Kreis München.

Blogpost by Doris Gutsmiedl-Schümann

Dort wurden ca. 450 Gräber aus der Zeit zwischen ca. 480 und 680 nach Chr. gefunden. Unter Einbezug der anthropologischen Ergebnisse wie Geschlecht und Alter der Bestatteten konnte Doris Gutsmiedl-Schümann Unterschiede in den Grabbeigaben respektive des Alters der Verstorbenen. Von besonderem Interesse für den Kontext unseres Forschungsprojekts erscheint mir die Erkenntnis, dass Schmuck mit Granateinlagen erst bei Frauen in fortgeschrittenem Alter vorkam, die den Höhepunkt ihrer sozialen Stellung erreicht hatten.

Der komplette Beitrag hier:




Garnet jewellery in Norway: The Norwegian disc-on-bow brooches and Viking memories

Ann Zanette Tsigaridas Glørstad & Ingunn Marit Røstad,  Museum of Cultural History, Oslo

The continental tradition with the use of garnets in jewellery from the early Middle Ages spread north up to Norway during the 6th and 7th centuries, albeit used in a much lesser degree. Garnets are, however, frequently used in the so-called disc-on-bow brooches. These are one of the most spectacular jewellery types we know of from this period in Scandinavia. They are usually made of gilded copper alloy and the surface is covered with garnets set in cloisonné technique. The manufacturing of the brooches take place in the period between c. 550–800 AD, i.e. the period leading up to the Viking Age. However, many of the brooches have been found in Viking graves, and are thus quite old when buried. How is this phenomenon to be understood?

This is the abstract of the presentation held during the lecture series in summer/autumn 2016.

See the full program here!

Jewellery and elite networks in Early Medieval Europe: some initial findings

Toby Martin, University of Oxford

During the fifth to seventh centuries AD, an ostentatious style of feminine dress flourished in Europe featuring large and decorative brooches. Thanks to the simultaneous (and perhaps not coincidental) rise of the furnished burial rite, thousands of these objects survive in museum collections. The geographical scale of this style was unprecedented, covering most of modern day Europe, from Norway to lowland Britain and Iberia, across to the Ukraine and up into the Baltic. As such, its analysis has much to tell us about contacts between populations in Europe, and how they used styles of jewellery as a means of creating and negotiating a material and social network. Traditionally, this material has been analysed using typology with the aim of grouping the material to reveal information about migration or ethnicity and more recently other forms of identity. Therefore, both the subject of enquiry and the method used in its investigation have a stated aim to reduce complex relationships into delineated groupings populated by objects or by people. In this presentation a new Europe-wide database of this material will be introduced and used to illustrate the possibilities of an alternative means of investigation. Instead of typology, a formal network analysis will be used to switch the focus of attention to the complex relationships between objects, and the web of linkages that these relationships create when examined en masse.

This is the abstract of the presentation held during the lecture series in summer/autumn 2016.

See the full program here!

Archaeogemology and ancient literary sources on gems

Lecture held by Lisbet Thoresen, Temecula, CA

Archaeology and discoveries of new gemstones and new gem sources in recent decades attest to the need for critical review and updating of literature in translation concerning gems of the ancient world. The origins and identities of gemstones used in ancient glyptic have been inferred almost exclusively from literary descriptions available in secondary or even tertiary sources after now-lost ancient original texts. To date, no epigraphical or philological study has verified the ancient gem cutters’repertoire of materials against empirical gemological examination of extant material in public or private collections. However, such objective data should improve interpretation of literary source material that is often fragmentary or contains descriptions fraught with lexical ambiguities and contradictions. A carefully qualified perspective is needed. Whether in original form or in translation, manuscripts, from antiquity to the present day, reflect some degree of current knowledge about geography and gems in the contemporary world of the author/epigrapher/translator. Contemporary knowledge attributed to earlier cultures is an unwitting bias that frequently eludes both translators and scholars. Together with critical examination of the imprint of authorial bias, a gemological review of extant material is discussed in relation to the important treatises on gemstone nomenclature, identity, and geographic origin.

Lecture held during the conference “Gemstones in the first Millennium AD. Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism.” October 21st, 2015 at the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany).

Gemstones in pre-Islamic Persia: Selection and meaning of material and shape of Sasanian seals

Lecture held by Nils Ritter, Berlin

One of the most common class of artefacts of pre-Islamic Persia are gemstones, which were used as seals as well as jewellery. So far, almost 10.000 seals from the Sasanian period are known, whereas few material is known from the preceding Parthian period, yet.
Centred in Persia, the Sasanian dynasty ruled from the Euphrates to the Indus, holding a position of supremacy for more than four centuries (from AD 224 to 652). Their gemstones respectively seals have had the highest geographical and social distribution of all known periods of pre-Islamic Persia.
The Sasanians chose colourful gemstones of different shapes, predominantly made of microcrystalline varieties of quartz. They stand out in the art of seal-cutting of the late ancient world not only for their quantity and distribution, but also in the character of themselves: this class of artefacts is significantly standardized in material, colour, shape, imagery, style and cutting techniques.
In the present paper, I will focus on the selection, background, and meaning of the materials, the colours and the shapes of Sasanian seals in order to present the traditional and innovative values of this class of material culture.

Lecture held during the conference “Gemstones in the first Millennium AD. Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism.” October 22nd, 2015 at the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany).

The Color and Material of Greco-Roman Magical Gemstones

Lecture held by Christopher A. Faraone, Chicago

In the Roman Imperial period inscriptions and new iconography appear for the first time on gems manufactured in the Mediterranean basin that clearly indicate these gems are being used as magical amulets. In the past scholars have argued that such amulets are a completely new phenomenon and that they reflect the sudden onset of anxiety or superstition, in the latter case brought on by closer Greek contact with “oriental” societies.  I have just completed an entire book arguing against this approach and suggesting instead that the key changes were (i) people began to inscribe on the gems words that they previously spoke over them; and (ii) they introduced new images of powerful new Ptolemaic gods such as Harpocrates or Sarapis. There were, however, also some important technical changes in the gems themselves, because in the Roman period gem-cutters began to use cheaper opaque stones of various colors, such as chalcedony or jasper, and they began to favor flat surfaces that allowed them more easily to carve figures in intaglio and text. A change, for example, from a convex carnelian to a flat red jasper. Scholars have paid close attention to the correlation between images and text on these gems, but not always to their media and in my lecture today I would like to explore the reasons why certain colors and media become important as amulets in this period. One important feature of these stones is their uncanny properties. Certain stones, for example, made a strange sound when shaken, emit an odor when rubbed, attract iron or straw or otherwise seem to straddle the boundary between the organic and the inorganic – were singled out by the Greeks as powerful and were used as amulets. In my paper this afternoon I will focus on a handful of these stones and show how the Greeks – as they were wont to do — borrowed some of these stones from the Near East (especially Mesopotamia, by way of Persia) and in other cases invented their own traditions by turning organic amulets, for instance the eyes of green lizards, into green gemstones or the use of brownish gemstones inscribed with the image of a scorpion to ward off brown scorpions.

Lecture held during the conference “Gemstones in the first Millennium AD. Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism.” October 22nd, 2015 at the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany).

Gems and precious stones from the Bible to the Liber Pontificalis.

Their combination, colours and contexts.

Lecture held by Michelle Beghelli, Mainz

This paper aims to explore some lesser-known uses of gems, with a special focus on the Early Middle Ages (7th-9th centuries) and on liturgical contexts. In order to do so, the data conveyed by the written sources and the material evidence have been gathered and compared. The altar with its surroundings – the sanctuary – has been chosen as the underlying theme to approach the subject.  This was the most sacred area in a church, where only the clergymen were allowed to be, and where every object was highly charged with symbolic value. The gems used in this context have also their own allegoric meanings: in the Bible itself they are constantly mentioned, although they are associated with both the holiest and the most evil figures and things. Their “positive” symbolic connotations were, however, one of the main reasons why they were employed in decorating Early Medieval liturgical items – together of course with their ornamental value and their meaning as an indicator of the economic and political power of the Church –. The objects preserved in the museums and the written sources offer a rich documentation about the types and the combinations of precious stones which were used to this purpose. The scientific literature on chalices, patens, crosses, reliquaries, hanging crowns with gem inlays is abundant, and at times it has been possible to detect some ancient restorations. A little known written document, however, offers additional, precious information on how these restorations could be performed in the 9th century. The same source includes a small enigma about diamonds, for which a possible solution will be proposed. Other contexts of use of gems have also been little inquired, namely their employment in the stone liturgical furnishings (altars, chancel screens, etc.) and in the icons with depictions of saints. Despite the evidence is scattered, a collection of various pieces of information allows to shed light on these last aspects.

Lecture held during the conference “Gemstones in the first Millennium AD. Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism.” October 21st, 2015 at the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany).

Gemstones in Indian Religions

Lecture held by James Mchugh, Los Angeles

India and neighboring regions were the main sources of many gemstones in the Old World. Pre-modern Indian texts on gemology display a complex knowledge, both practical and mythological, of the origins, locations, properties, and evaluation of many types of gemstone. In Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism gemstones play a number of important and varied roles, from sanctifying the foundations of temples to constituting the building blocks of heavens. This paper introduces the mythological origins and supernatural potencies of the main gemstones as found in textual sources, and also presents an explanatory survey of the main religious contexts where gemstones were used. The paper will also consider the methodological difficulties in comparing textual sources with material finds.

Lecture held during the conference “Gemstones in the first Millennium AD. Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism.” October 21st, 2015 at the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany).

Foto: Carvings of strings of jewels from a 6th century CE cave at Badami India. (J. Mchugh)

Symbolism of precious stones in Byzantium

Lecture held by Antje Bosselmann-Ruickbie, Mainz

Surprisingly, magic played an important part throughout the history of the Byzantine Empire, although it was a Christian state. Wide-spread representatives of the material culture of magic are amulets made from different materials, but prevailingly preserved in metal and stone. Most examples date from the Early Byzantine period (4th-7th century), however, later examples as well as written sources prove that amulets must have existed until the end of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century. A great number was made of precious stone such as sapphire, emerald, agate, sardonyx, carnelian, jasper, amethyst or haematite. Their protective character was usually defined by a representation, e.g. of a demon or a figure defeating a demon. Beyond that, the material itself played an important role. We learn from written sources that magical properties and healing powers were ascribed to gemstones. One example is the amethyst, which was supposed to protect the wearer from insobriety (amethystos, Gr., ‘not drunk’). Byzantine writers such as Epiphanius of Salamis (4th century) or Michael Psellos (11th century) provide an insight into the magical properties ascribed to the stones which can vary depending on the source.

Lecture held during the conference “Gemstones in the first Millennium AD. Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism.” October 22nd, 2015 at the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany).