Ever wonder while getting ready for a night out and sliding on your rings and/or bracelets, or while clasping a necklace around neck, where it all started? The answer is that it all began a startlingly long time ago—long before humanity had even begun writing. Wearing and creating jewelry even predates the creation of the wheel.
Here is a little bit of history for you to consider next time you walk into your local jewelry store looking for that new piece of adornment. A practice dating back to the earliest members of the human species.
A Brief History
100,000 Years Ago—This is the earliest form of jewelry found in the archaeological record. It consists of beads crafted out of Nassarius shells. 40,000 Years Ago—Jewelry crafted from bones and shells is found in the Mediterranean countries. 6,400 Years Ago—Thracian people begin crafting with gold, also around the time of the invention of the wheel. 1500 AD—The modern conception of jewelry begins to be found among the common people rather than just the nobility
Why Jewelry? Tradition and Meaning Across Time and Culture
With such a long history of wearing jewelry, it makes sense for there to be a long and storied reason for the adornment of the human body. Unfortunately, since ornamentation predates the creation of written language, much of this study belongs to the realm of speculation. But still there are things that can be deduced.
Some of the earliest forms of crafted jewelry incorporated images of animals and plants, and coincided with a time in human history when much of religious worship and cultural understanding was based around the earth and the animals that inhabited it. This meant that the jewelry represented connections to those beliefs. Think of the wearing of the talisman of one’s spirit animal.
During the dark ages and the medieval period in Europe, jewelry was used to indicate status and riches. Early kings in Great Britain became such solely through the acquisition of goods, and would gift jewelry in order to gain piety from their wealthier subjects.
Around the same time the Catholic church was using jewelry in the ornamentation of ritual clothing to show obeisance to God and honor him. This type of ornamentation also led to the carrying of crosses and prayer beads by the general public.
The modern concept of jewelry draws upon all of the elements of its ancient history. Giving gifts of jewelry shows that we respect a person and hope that he or she will respect us in return. Religious symbols are widely incorporated into different designs, as are images of the natural world.
More now than ever, jewelry has become a way to showcase an individual’s personality. So next time you are shopping around to figure out how to express yourself, consider the history of jewelry. Maybe it will give you some new unique ideas. And we all want to be unique.