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Ancient Mycenean Period Carnelian Shells with Matching Gold Shell Beads




Carnelian, 20k gold


The necklace is 19 5/8 inches (49.8 cm) in length. The necklace weighs 47 gm.







A necklace of eleven carnelian beads and ten gold beads, all shaped to resemble cowrie shells. There are twenty-two spherical gold beads alternating between the shell beads. There are stirrup beading tips at each end which provide attachment loops for the double hook clasp. The carnelian shells are 1.4 cm – 1.6 cm in length, 1.25 cm – 1.3 cm in width and 5.5 mm in thickness. The diameter of the drill holes is 2 mm. The gold beads are of the same size: 1.6 cm in length, 1.3 cm in width, and 6 mm in thickness. The gold shell beads have a border of granulation on the front side and a border of twisted wire filigree on the back. The medallion on the double hook clasp also has a border of twisted wire surrounding a raised boss in the center. The carnelian beads are probably ancient Egyptian. We do not know of any published examples of carnelian beads of this shape and form. There are, however, similar gold examples in the British Museum. These are reported in “Catalogue of the Jewellery, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman in the Departments of Antiqities, British Museum,” by F.W. Marshall. One set was found in Cyprus and one was said to have been found in Aegina. They are “Mycenaean” Period (1300 B.C – 1100 B.C.), or “Late Minoan.” The discovery of Egyptian scarabs of the late eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties in the excavations at Enkomi in Cyprus lends strong credence to the idea that the gold cowrie shell beads also found there are ancient Egyptian (rather than Minoan). It seems likely that the carnelian shell beads come from the same time as their gold counterparts in the British Museum. Shells were some of the earliest used naturally occurring objects that could be utilized as beads and pendants by ancient people with very little or no alteration. Plants, flowers and insects such as the dung beetle were also used as ornaments in ancient times and the Egyptians made permanent versions of these perishable ornaments in stone and faience in their jewelry. The set of gold beads were made to compliment the ancient carnelian beads. The front and back side are given different decorations: the front side has a double row of granulation and the back side has a double row of twisted wires. Gold tubes have also been inserted into the drill hoes of the carnelian beads. On beads with a flattened form, it is not uncommon to see notch like chips at the drill holes where the walls on the flat sides are thinnest, this damage the result of being worn for some time. The beads can be made to hang properly in a necklace if these gaps are filled, which we have done. The gold used in the tubes, beads and clasp are 20k.