Tag Archives: Trade

Conference Proceedings: Gemstones in the first Millennium

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.

Introducing the International Framework project

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”.

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).

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

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 on the North-western Periphery of the Merovingian Empire during the 7th Century

Deutsche Version | Team

The objective of this subproject is the archaeological and scientific analysis of garnet objects from England, Scotland and Scandinavia. The question is, why objects decorated with garnet went out of fashion on the Continent during the last third of the 6th century, while the style experienced a notable floruit in 7th-century England and Scandinavia. Continue reading Garnet on the North-western Periphery of the Merovingian Empire during the 7th Century

The Perception of Byzantine and Oriental Objects in the Merovingian Empire

Deutsche Version | Team

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