Category Archives: Article

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).

An outstanding jewel collar from the cemetery of Keszthely-Fenékpuszta-Horreum (South-West Hungary)

Authors: Eszter HorváthZsófia Rácz

Deutsche Version

In Pannonia, in the south-western region of the Lake Balaton, in the 6th-7th century a population with broad international, Mediterranean and Western connections lived under the Avar rule. An important centre of power of this population was situated in the former Late Antique fortification of Keszthely-Fenékpuszta. Next to the horreum (granary) building of the fortress 36 graves of a 6th –7th-century cemetery have been unearthed. Grave 5 belonged to a girl richly furnished with golden and silver jewels: earrings, dress pin, disc brooch, ring and a unique composite jewel collar.

Keszthely-Fenékpuszta-Horreum (Hungary), grave 5, jewel collar, front-side
Keszthely-Fenékpuszta-Horreum (Hungary), grave 5, jewel collar, back-side.

Archaeometric analysis of this jewel collar was carried out within our project. The investigated artefact is constructed of triangle golden bezel settings (14 items remained) – decorated on both sides, on one side with granulation and on the other side with red garnet and glass inlays – as well as triangle lapis lazuli plates (6 items remained).

Keszthely-Fenékpuszta-Horreum (Hungary), grave 5, jewel collar, back-side (detail)


Keszthely-Fenékpuszta-Horreum (Hungary), grave 5, jewel collar, front-side (detail)

Originally, the triangles were interlaced by a double twine. At the lower edge of the golden triangles further circular bezel settings were soldered, filled with green and colorless glass inlays and in one case a garnet cabochon.

Keszthely-Fenékpuszta-Horreum (Hungary), grave 5, jewel collar, front-side (detail): The lower part of the composite elements of the jewel collar.

As an addition, at the end of these pendants small pearls might have been attached which presumably got fully weathered because of the soil acidity.

Identification of lapis lazuli as the raw material of an early medieval necklace (by means of Raman spektroscopy) is a real sensation.

Backing foil with punched ring-dot pattern in one of the triangle bezel settings of the jewel collar.
Details of the lapis lazuli plates of the jewel collar







In the discussed period this precious stone could have been imported from the region of Afghanistan, the Ural and the Baikal Sea and occurs very rarely in Early Medieval assemblages.

Details of the lapis lazuli plates of the jewel collar.
Details of the lapis lazuli plates of the jewel collar.






Analogues of this jewel collar are known from the territory of Byzantium, from Asia Minor (Lebanon: cemetery of Tyros), and from the Balkan (Bulgaria: Varna and Sadovec). The necklace from the Late Antique fortress of Sadovec is similarly composed of antithetical golden and lapis lazuli triangles, completed with amethyst beads. These intricate, composite necklaces imitated the garment of the Byzantine ruling family: wearing large jewel collars with pendants of precious stones and pearls was the privilege of the female members of the emperor’s family in the 6th century AD.

Ein besonderer Halsschmuck aus dem Gräberfeld von Keszthely-Fenékpuszta-Horreum (West-Ungarn)

In Pannonien, am südwestlichen Ende des Balaton lebte im 6.-7. Jahrhundert eine Bevölkerung mit weiten internationalen, mediterranen und westlichen Kontakten unter awarischer Herrschaft. Ein wichtiges Machtzentrum dieses Gebietes befand sich in der früheren spätrömischen Befestigung von Keszthely-Fenékpuszta. Neben dem Horreum-Gebäude der Befestigung wurde eine Nekropole mit 36 Bestattungen aus dem 6.–7. Jahrhundert entdeckt. Grab 5 dieses Gräberfeldes enthielt die Bestattung eines Mädchens mit besonders reichen Beigaben: goldene Ohrringe, goldene und silberne Gewandnadeln, eine Scheibenfibel, einen Fingerring und einen einzigartigen, aus mehreren Teilen zusammengesetzten Halsschmuck.

Keszthely-Fenékpuszta-Horreum (Ungarn), Grab 5, Juwelenkragen, Vorderseite.
Keszthely-Fenékpuszta-Horreum (Ungarn), Grab 5, Juwelenkragen, Rückseite.

Im Rahmen des Zellwerk-Projektes wurden die archäometrischen Untersuchungen des Halsschmuckes (sog. Juwelenkragen) durchgeführt. Er wurde aus 14 dreieckigen goldenen Bandfassungen – auf der einen Seite mit Granulation, auf der anderen mit Granat- und Glaseinlagen verziert – und aus 6 dreieckigen Lapislazuli Plättchen zusammengesetzt.

Keszthely-Fenékpuszta-Horreum (Ungarn), Grab 5, Juwelenkragen, Vorderseite (Detail).
Keszthely-Fenékpuszta-Horreum (Ungarn), Grab 5, Juwelenkragen, Vorderseite (Detail).
Keszthely-Fenékpuszta-Horreum (Ungarn), Grab 5, Juwelenkragen, Rückseite (Detail).

Die Dreiecke waren ursprünglich auf einer doppelten Schnur aufgereiht. Zu den goldenen Dreiecken waren weitere runde Fassungen mit grünen und farblosen Glaseinlagen, bzw. mit einem Granatstein ergänzt. Auf dem unteren Teil der Einlagen befanden sich vermutlich einst echten Perlen die sich allerdings im sauren Bodenmilieu nicht erhalten haben.5.kép

Die Entdeckung der Lapislazuli Platten mit Hilfe von Raman-spektroskopischen Untersuchungen gilt als wahre Sensation.

Folienunterlage mit gepresstem Punkt-Kreis Motiv in einer der dreieckigen Bandfassungen des Halsschmuckes.
Lapislazuli Plättchen des Halsschmuckes in Detailaufnahmen.







Dieser Schmuckstein, dessen wichtigste Fundstellen sich in Afghanistan, in der Ural- und Baikalgegend befinden, kommt im frühmittelalterlichen Fundzusammenhängen nur sehr selten vor.

Lapislazuli Plättchen des Halsschmuckes in Detailaufnahmen.
Lapislazuli Plättchen des Halsschmuckes in Detailaufnahmen.

Typologische Gegenstücke des Juwelenkragens von Keszthely kennt man aus dem Byzantinischen Reich, aus Kleinasien (Libanon, Gräberfeld von Tyros), und aus dem Balkan (Bulgarien, Varna und Sadovec). Der Halsschmuck von Sadovec besteht ebenso aus entgegengesetzten goldenen und Lapislazuli Dreiecken, mit Amethystperlen ergänzt. Diese komplizierte Schmuckstücke folgen der kaiserliche Mode: das Tragen der größeren Juwelenkragen mit sog. Pendilien (eine Art von Hängeschmuck) wurde ab dem 6. Jahrhundert nach Christus das Privileg der weiblichen Mitglieder der kaiserlichen Familie.


Amber and beaver furs: Trade with raw material for the production of luxury goods

Lecture held by Dieter Quast, Mainz

This lecture compares two sorts of trade with raw materials. Though they are as well from very different regions as from different millennia it seems that they have something in common. Amber, being in fact a fossil resin and not a gemstone, was very valuable in the Roman Empire. Pliny the Elder complained in the 1st century AD that a small figure of amber is as expensive as a slave. Natural scientific analyses had shown that the amber used in the Roman Empire was of Baltic origin and was traded as raw material. In Carnuntum c. 40km south-east of Vienna it crossed the Roman limes and followed the so called Amber Road up to Aquileia. There the workshops had been to produce the well-known little objects of art, a sort of expensive knick-knack. The existence of an Amber Road north of the Roman limes is often supposed, but not for sure. Also uncertain is how the trade was organised north of the Roman border in the Barbaricum.

Analysing some late pre-roman Iron Age deposits with over a tonne of raw amber in Silesia and comparing them with Roman imports from the south gave some insight into the contact zones. Silesia seems to be a sort of “middle ground”. This terminus was used to describe cultural contacts between the native Algonquian peoples and the French in the 17th/early 18th century in the Great Lakes Region. But the “middle ground” was also the background for the trade with beaver furs. And those furs had been a luxury good for Europe, where they have been used by hatters to make beaver hats.

Amber trade is documented mostly by archaeological source, beaver furs trade by written source. The comparison will allow to take a fresh look at the amber trade.

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).

Before the emporia: Garnets and elite exchange networks in the North Sea Zone, AD 400-700

Lecture held by Helena Hamerow, Oxford

This lecture will consider the exchange networks by which garnets – both as a component of ornamental metalwork and as a ‘raw’ material – circulated around the North Sea Zone during the fifth to seventh centuries, with a particular emphasis on Anglo-Saxon England. Possible entry points for this material and the mechanisms behind its distribution will be considered, as will the appearance and significance of raw, unmounted garnets deposited in bags or pouches in early medieval burials. Aspects of workshop production will also be touched upon, particularly in relation to composite disc brooches. Finally, evidence for the decline in the availability of garnets around the North Sea Zone will be considered, above all in the form of ‘cannibalized’ and recycled garnets.

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: West Hanney Brooch (detail), Institute of Archaeology Oxford University: Ian R.Cartwright (2013).

Gemstones in Southeast Asia and beyond: Trade along the maritime networks

Lecture held by Brigitte Borell, Heidelberg

This lecture presents some aspects of the complex patterns of gemstone trade and manufacture from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea in the late centuries BCE and the early centuries CE. The focus will be on some of the archaeological sites in the region of the Isthmus of Kra in southern Thailand, where the maritime routes appear to have been connected by land crossings of this narrow part of Malay Peninsula. Finds from these sites include Roman intaglios, garnets and carnelians from India as well as evidence for the on-site production of carnelian and agate beads and other ornaments with Indian technologies. The presence of South Asians in the Isthmus of Kra area is further attested by stone seals inscribed with the owner’s name in Indian Brāhmī script. In addition, the paper will outline the gemstone trade farther to the east, to southern China, based on the finds from Han period tombs in the area of the Gulf of Tonking and Guangdong.

Lecture held during the conference “Gemstones in the first Millennium AD. Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism.” October 20th, 2015 at the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany).

Foto: B. Borell

Cross-cultural diamond and gemstone trade. The Armenian diaspora in Venice…

… and their global networks (1650-1750)

Lecture held by Evelyn Korsch, Venice

The lecture explores the Armenian diaspora in Venice, its activities in the Eurasian gem trade, and its worldwide commercial networks. Venice serves as the starting point because of its important role as turnover hub for trading and processing gems. Besides, it functioned as a gateway and connected markets in Italy with those in the Levant, Persia, and India as well as those in the Netherlands, on the German territories and in Russia. The Armenian diaspora in Venice who had its headquarters in New Julfa, a suburb of Isfahan, linked by its trade the Amber Road leading from Sankt Petersburg to Venice with the Silk Road running from China to the Mediterranean ports. Armenian merchants established a worldwide communication system providing their agents with updated information about market trends in order to maximise the profit of their commercial transactions. These agents operated within different networks in order to strengthen their activities. Their network system was based on wellbalanced mercantile strategies veering between cooperation and competition with both the East India Companies as well as other trading networks, like the Sephardic and Huguenot diasporas.

As the gem business was connected with high investments and therefore risks, it required special commercial and legal practices in order to reduce uncertainty. Moreover, crosscultural trade demanded particular skills of the agents who had to be able to move within transcultural interaction. Apart from geographic knowledge and language skills special trade practices were required which evoked a cultural exchange.

The study aims to contribute to a current discussion about the interaction between diasporas, trading networks, cultural exchange, and a globalisation of commercial relations in the Early Modern Time.

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).

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Fatimid rock crystal carving techniques (10th -12th century AD)

Lecture held by Elise Morero, Oxford

The Fatimid caliphs of the 10th- to 12th-century C.E. are well known for their patronage of luxury arts, especially carved rock crystal vessels, although the manufacturing techniques employed in their production remain largely unknown. The processes of Fatimid rock crystal carving were investigated using a multidisciplinary method based largely on: the observation at various scales of the manufacturing traces on the surface of the objects; tribological analysis; the analysis of archaeological and ethnographic data; and also experimental reconstructions of ancient techniques.
These complementary methods enabled us to identify the techniques and tool-kit used by Fatimid craftsmen. The hardness of rock crystal (Mohs scale 7.0), together with its homogenous crystalline structure, makes the use of percussive tools inefficient. Instead, the crystal must be ground away using an abrasive powder and a lubricant. The mixture was carried to the surface of the crystal using different tools put in motion by a horizontal bow-lathe. It was determined that a particularly famous group of seven ewers was produced by a few specialised workshops, probably located at Fustat (Old Cairo), in about the year 1000 C.E. 11

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: Fatimid rock crystal ewer (Francis Mills ewer – Keir Collection, Dallas Museum of Art)

An early medieval garnet workshop in Gamla Uppsala, Sweden

Lecture held by John Ljungkvist, Uppsala


The project “Gamla Uppsala – the emergence of a mythical centre”, has since 2009 conducted systematic studies in Gamla Uppsala to increase the knowledge of the long term structural history of the site. In the period c. 550-700, the place is transforming remarkably into a monumental site. This transformation of an already densely settled site involves the famous mounds, houses on artificial plateaus and recently discovered post row monuments. Three areas were in 2011 investigated in the centre of the Early Medieval manor area. Beyond a major reinterpretations of the great 7th c. hall/-sal, the excavation also contributed in shedding new light on settlement continuity, crafts, large scale household economy and regulations of the site between c. 400-1600 AD. Of particular interest for this presentation is the Northern Plateau, placed in a 90 degree angle in relation the great hall. This partially artificial plateau, house, in between earlier and later phases, two 6th c., two large burnt down houses from the 7th to 8th c. The older building, of which only small remains have been examined, proved to be a multi-functional crafts building where the garnet production is the most prominent activity. The building most likely houses tens of thousands of garnet fragments from the jewellery production, which makes it the so far largest production site found so far in Scandinavia.


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).

Further reading on the web:

Blog by John Ljungkvist

Garnet jewellery in early medieval sweden (presentation)

Resources according to the archaeological research at Gamla Uppsala in Swedish:


Arkeologerna blog posts

Societas Archaeologica Upsaliensis

Upplandsmuseet Uppsala


The red garnet industry in contemporary Rajasthan

Lecture held by Borayin Larios, Heidelberg


India has become increasingly difficult. Historically believed to be a key zone for the extraction or red garnet, Rajasthan has now allegedly become a second choice for the gemstone manufacturers from Jaipur. Stake-holders in the production of gemstones presumably procure the majority of garnet rough from African countries such as Tanzania, Madagascar and Zambia, and occasionally from other parts of India, mainly from the state of Orissa.  In the fall of 2014, I ventured to look for red garnet (almandine) sources in the region of Rajasthan, and what I found was a completely different story: protected by local politicians paid off by bribes by the miners, larger mine operations of all kinds of minerals go on despite being outside the law. In the case of the gemstone quality of garnet, small-scale and artisanal mining activities are being carried out in different parts of Rajasthan and it seems that this this type of informal mining might have been the rule rather than the exception also in earlier times. In this paper, I will present my findings on how the local garnet industry is still alive in Rajasthan and what challenges it brings to the researcher to follow the trail of garnet from the mine to the costumer, not only from a historical perspective, but also in contemporary India.



The Video shows  contemporary garnet mining and processing in Rajasthan, India.

Lecture held during the conference “Gemstones in the first Millennium AD. Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism.” October 20th, 2015 at the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany).

Garnet Jewellery in Early Medieval Sweden

Deutsche Version | Team

Present-day Sweden has a large and varied garnet material from the Iron Age. Even if there are finds dating back to the Late Roman Period most objects derive from the 5th to 8th centuries. In Sweden this time period is called the Migration and Vendel Period, and it is characterised by its regional power structures, wealthy burials and far-reaching networks of contacts. Most of the garnets are part of jewellery such as brooches but also adorning high status weaponry etc. Continue reading Garnet Jewellery in Early Medieval Sweden

Scientific and Technical Analyses of Garnet Jewellery

Deutsche Version | Team

Depending on their respective geological origin, the chemical composition of garnets varies significantly. Different areas of origin of ancient garnet can thus be distinguished by scientific analyses.

Analyses into the origins of garnet from the areas on the periphery of the Merovingian Empire, planned to be carried out within the scope of this subproject, will form the basis for an understanding of chronological changes of the distribution routes and recognising possible reasons for the “garnet route in crisis”. Continue reading Scientific and Technical Analyses of Garnet Jewellery

Garnet Cloisonné on the Continent during the 7th and 8th Centuries

Deutsche Version | Team

The usage of garnets on the continent changed markedly during the final decades of the 6th century. Objects with garnet inlay, which until then had been available to large parts of the population even in remote and rural regions, suddenly became scarce. The two general explanations are that cloisonné had either become unpopular, or that the trade links for the supply of raw material from Sri Lanka and India had been severely disrupted. Continue reading Garnet Cloisonné on the Continent during the 7th and 8th Centuries