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).

Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Orlow_%28Diamant%29.jpg

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:

Homepage

Arkeologerna blog posts

Societas Archaeologica Upsaliensis

Upplandsmuseet Uppsala

Facebook

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).