Researchers from different fields like archaeology, history, philology and natural sciences present their studies on ancient gemstones. Using precious minerals as an example, trade flows and craftsmanship, but also utilisation and perception are discussed in a cross-cultural and diachronic approach. The present volume aims at three main questions concerning gemstones in archaeological and historical contexts: »Mines and Trade«, »Gemstone Working« as well as »The Value and the Symbolic Meaning(s) of Gemstones«.
This volume contains the proceedings of the conference »Gemstones in the first Millennium AD« held in autumn 2015 in Mainz, Germany, within the scope of the BMBF-funded project »Weltweites Zellwerk – International Framework«.
You can preview the table of content and a preface here.
Dieter Quast and Alexandra Hilgner from the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (RGZM) in Mainz explain the initial questions of the project “Weltweites Zellwerk – International Framework” regarding the origin and development of garnet cloisonné jewellery in the early middle ages. Garnet gemstones from India arrived in a vast amount during the 6th century in the Merovingian kingdom in central Europe. In the 7th century, the cloisonné jewellery style was suddenly disappearing. Was it because of a change in fashion or did something happen to the former trade routes? The International Framework project, organised by the RGZM, the SAI Heidelberg and the LVR-LandesMuseum, Bonn with partners in Sweden, the UK and Hungary tries not only to find answers to these questions regarding the value and the meaning of the gemstone garnet, but also to understand the international trade and economic interactions in the “dark ages”.
As an alternative to high karat gold foils fire-gilt silver foils have been used to produce the patterned Early Medieval backing foils. For my experiments, I needed a silver foil of a material thickness of 0,025 to 0,03 mm. My starting material was a sheet the size of 10×10 cm and a thickness of 1 mm. It was composed of 93,5% silver, 6,2% copper and 0,3% zinc. The authentic way to reduce the metal thickness would have been to draw down the material by forging. but to save time I decided to thin the sheet by rolling using a hand-operated rolling mill. The metal is worked in a cold state. It is primarily stretched in length. Because the process creates stresses in the crystal structure, the workpiece has to be annealed after several passes though the rolls: You have to heat it to a red state and then cool it down. Rolling the silver sheet to a material thickness of 0,03 mm would mean that its length expands up to 4 m! So repeated cutting off of smaller pieces was necessary. I started to roll the sheet immediately, reducing the distance between the rollers step by step, and I could go on until a material thickness of 0,1 mm was reached. Then the gap between the rollers couldn’t be made any smaller. So I continued sandwiching the silver between two copper sheets. During the whole rolling process the workpiece had been periodically annealed. The thinner the sheet became the greater was the danger of melting. Finally, I held two silver sheets, sizes 2,7×6,6 cm and 2,7×5,2 cm, of a material thickness of 0,03 mm in my hands, with some small stress cracks along the edges and both a little bit warped, probably because of an irregular roller pressure.
Lit.: E. Brepohl, Theory and Practice of Goldsmithing, Brunswick 2001.
Hello, I am Christiane Stempel, goldsmith, conservator and responsible for the technological examination of Early Medieval garnet objects that have been brought to the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz for scientific analyses within the project “Weltweites Zellwerk”.
During my work, I made some observations that raised questions regarding the manufacturing and the use of the patterned foils behind the garnets.
Transparent stones were often underlaid with gold foils to reflect the light through the stone. This is particularly important when the stone is backed up with cement. In the Early Medieval period textured backing foils were used on a large scale. The three-dimensional pattern increased the reflective effect. I examined a great number of objects from different find-spots in Sweden, Anglo-Saxon England and the Rhineland and I found all the varieties of pattern commonly known from the literature such as standard waffle, boxed waffle (Varying in the number of enclosed squares [9 to 25]), ring-and-dot, lozenge, boxed lozenge and rectangle (stack bond). They only differ in fineness (number of lines/mm), depth of texture and contour sharpness.
Unfortunately, the project nears its end and I would like to use the remaining time to carry out some technical experiments:
Producing the pattern
There are indications (see figures 3-7) that at least a number of foils weren’t manufactured with dies. It looks as if lines were traced immediately on to the foils to form the grid pattern.
N. D. Meeks and R. Holmes described in their article “The Sutton Hoo Garnet Jewellery” an experiment with a scriber that they used to draw the lines directly onto the foils. But in their opinion, the result was not satisfying. (N. D. Meeks/R. Holmes, The Sutton Hoo garnet jewellery: an examination of some gold backing foils and a study of their possible manufacturing techniques. Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 4, 1985, 143-157.) I would like to pick up the idea again, but instead of a scriber I will do the work with a profiled hand-operated tool, comparable to a creaser. It is used until today in bookmaking and leather processing to imprint decorative lines onto a leather surface. In contrast to a pointed scriber the elongated working face of a creaser can be of any cross-section.
The theory that has to be verified in practice is as follows: The grid pattern can be formed with a sliding forward motion of the tool, running it along a ruler with moderate pressure to form parallel lines, then rotating the workpiece by 90 degrees and repeating the action. For my experiments, I will use a small creaser-like tool that I have made by removing the cut of a square rifle file. As foil materials, I will use tin foil (0.03 mm) as well as sterling silver foils of different thicknesses (0,025 mm to 0,04 mm).
Using foil for stone securing
Not a small number of foils seem to have a further purpose: In many cases, the foils are trapped between the stone edges and the surrounding metal of the setting. Is it possible to hold a stone in place with the foil?
If times permits, I would like to produce a foil in the way outlined above using a fire-gilded silver foil. In the next few weeks, I will report about my experiments and I am curious about the results and your comments.
Featured image: Buckle, Endre socken, Statens Historiska Museet Stockholm 484:12, detail: garnet cloisonné with foils behind the garnets. (photo: RGZM/Stempel)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Die Entdeckung der Lapislazuli Platten mit Hilfe von Raman-spektroskopischen Untersuchungen gilt als wahre Sensation.
Dieser Schmuckstein, dessen wichtigste Fundstellen sich in Afghanistan, in der Ural- und Baikalgegend befinden, kommt im frühmittelalterlichen Fundzusammenhängen nur sehr selten vor.
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.
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→
The project is focussing on the question, to what extent people wearing garnet jewellery were aware of the exotic origin of the red garnet. Consequently, it concentrates upon the perception of the gem stones, which were evidently imported “en masse” to Central Europe and Western Europe. These imports are not isolated events but testament to the context of an extensive stream of imports from the Byzantine Empire and the Mediterranean continuing throughout the entire Merovingian period. Continue reading The Perception of Byzantine and Oriental Objects in the Merovingian Empire→
Decorative use of garnet stones on fine metalwork has defined the goldsmith’s art in the Carpathian Basin for three centuries, although with varying intensity. After its main flourish between the early 5th and the middle the 6th century, its dominance was mainly limited to the material of some specific social groups. On the other hand, from the early 8th century, garnet inlay had completely disappeared from the design of fine metalwork. In the project we are focussing on one of the most interesting transitional periods, dated between the late 6th and the late 7th century, which in Hungary is called the Early and Middle Avar Periods. Continue reading Archaeometric Investigation of garnet jewellery→