The Nile Valley has been home to humans for over 100,000 years and in those very early days stone, shell, bone, animal teeth and ivory were used as personal decoration, similar to other places in prehistory. Here, we pick up the trail at around 4000 BC with the Badarian culture inhabiting the upper Nile Valley. Ancient Egypt has left us tangible evidence of its 4000 year long jewelry production. We owe this to the well developed religion and superstition of the Egyptians which caused them to firmly believe in resurrection. They buried their dead well prepared for the afterlife, often with jewelry especially manufactured for that purpose.
Investigation of the holes in the beads has shown that they were made by narrow flints. The holes are composed of two conical cavities meeting in the middle. By far the most common material was steatite, an obvious choice because of it's softness. These beads would be shaped and then glazed green. Wide colorful girdles were made from them, the individual strands being held apart by bone or hippopotamus ivory spacer beads.
The successor of the Badarian culture was the Naqada culture which increased the skill of bead making. Beads from this period are more regular and the use of hard stone like garnet shows a clear progress in stone working techniques. Alluvial gold, plentiful in southern Egypt, starts being used more often. Bangles, necklaces and bracelets are being produced in the Badarian tradition but a new ornament makes its appearance: the forehead ornament. A Naqada woman was found buried with a shell diadem like piece lying in front of her eyes.
This period, that incorporates the first few dynasties of Pharaoh's, is marked by an increased assurance in the manufacturing of jewelry. Square beads called serekhs were made in various materials. Necklaces in this period are colorful single string necklaces.
Amongst the materials used to create jewelry were now the highly prized silver and electrum. Possibly because of its rarity, silver was regarded as being more valuable then gold by the Egyptians. Another new material was Egyptian blue, a pigment used throughout Egyptian history to mimic the color of turquoise. Glazed materials became even more common and beads and amulets made of gold became bigger and more abundant.
The period between 2181 - 2040 BC was marked by civil war, famine and general disruption of society and would lead to the expectation that jewelry would be virtually absent or at least of inferior materials but some fine pieces have come from this time.
gemstones in combination with finely worked gold decorated the plain white linen clothing of the Egyptians. Favorite motifs were the scarab and the eye of Horus but the use of cobras and vultures was reserved for the Pharaoh himself. The symbolism that we encounter in all these motifs, as well as the color used, are significant. Red stood for blood and therefor depicted life and energy, green stood for new growth and resurrection and blue for the sky. Protective amulets are worn side
As the previously discussed periods, this one ends in a period of disruption as well. Egypt would emerge from this third intermediate period during the 8th century BC. From that time on Egypt has been under the influence of the Persians, Greeks and later Romans. Emeralds were found in Egypt somewhere after the 8th century BC and were used in Etruscan and Roman jewelry.