Posts tagged jewelry history

Tail-Shaped Bone Earrings Carved by Ancient Ancestors Are the Oldest Ever Found in North America

Two matching sets of tail-shaped bone earrings carved by our ancient ancestors are the oldest examples of jewelry adornments ever found in North America, according to a team of Alaskan archaeologists.

The items, which were unearthed at the Mead site between Fairbanks and Delta Junction, AK, offer a rare glimpse at the importance of self-adornment in ancient cultures and reveal the skills and artistry employed to put them together.

The artifacts are approximately 12,000 years old, according to Barbara Crass, director of Shaw Creek Archaeological Research. “Outside of a few beads there’s nothing else that age and artistic in the New World or at least North America,” she told newsminer.com.

Each earring of the larger set measures approximately 4mm wide, while the smaller earrings are about half that size.

While the materials and designs may seem unsophisticated, Crass contends they were advanced for their time period when primitive man was first developing pottery and ground stone tools.

In a press release, Crass described the smaller of the earring sets as “elegant inverted V-shapes designed for suspension. They have tiny serrations on the interior edges of the V and delicate cross-hatching along the outer edges, possibly representing stylized bird tails.”

Working with researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Shaw Creek team has been unearthing artifacts from the Mead site since 2009. The earrings were actually found in 2013, but Crass decided to hold off on the announcement for a year in the hope of finding additional jewelry items in 2014. When they didn’t materialize, the team opted to go public with what they had, reported newsminer.com.

According to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Office of History & Archaeology, the Mead site is one of three archaeological sites in Alaska that have yielded data to show that a broad-based hunting and foraging economy was practiced in this area at the end of the last ice age.

These sites contain artifacts directly associated with extinct mammals, such as wapiti, bison and mammoth, and provide new clues about human adaptation to environmental change.

(Earrings photo: Barbara Crass, Shaw Creek Archaeological Research; Dig photo: Alaska Department of Natural Resources.)

Gold, Glorious Gold

Often considered the ultimate measure of wealth, gold is a shimmering metal mined from the Earth for thousands of years. In fact, ancient Egyptians as far back as 3600 BC portrayed gold in their hieroglyphics as the brilliance of the sun, thanks to its color, beauty and sheen. The Mesopotamians were among the first to craft the earliest known gold jewelry, predominantly as pendants and headdresses.

Over the ensuing centuries, gold would become currency, a significant factor in religious art and a universal sign of love – with wedding bands made of gold becoming the standard. While gold has industrial uses (in microchips, stents, etc.), it shines brightest in jewelry and timepieces. In fact, it is estimated that somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the world’s gold is used to create jewelry and fine watch cases.

The metal is quite malleable, making it perfect for shaping. Unfortunately, while its malleability makes gold a wonderful creative medium, in its pure form it is simply too soft and delicate for final use. Thus, it is often combined with other metals for added strength.

The karatage of gold refers to the proportion of pure gold in a piece of jewelry or a watch. Essentially, 24-karat gold jewelry is nearly pure, with approximately 99.5 percent of the piece being gold. Still, this is relatively soft gold, and so it is typically used only as accent jewelry pieces, such as earrings. The USA generally favors gold jewelry in the 14-karat variety, and 9-karat gold is common in the United Kingdom as a carryover from wartime restrictions. Jewelry is also available in 22-karat, 21-karat and 19-karat gold, but the most standard international karatage is 18-karat gold, containing 75 percent pure gold. This is predominantly used in fine jewelry and luxury watchmaking.

Because of its medium hardness, 18-karat gold is a very workable material for wristwatches, especially because of the ability to engrave gold. In the engraving process, one master artisan slowly and carefully works away at the metal on the case in a decorative manner—pushing the chiseled metal out of the way, while hand designing anything from vines and flowers, to scenes, geometric designs and more. While gold stamping has been perfected (predominantly for mass market items), hand workmanship is still the order of the day from the finest watch brands in the world. Today, the finest watch brands utilize gold in a host of hues to create their watches. We will bring you more about how the top colors of gold are achieved later this week. Meanwhile, stop in for a hands-on look at our gold watches.