Double Strand Choker Necklace with Ancient Egyptian “Cowrie Shell” Center Bead
Carnelian, Lapis Lazuli, Turquoise, 20k gold
The length of the beaded portion is 14 inches (35.3 cm) with a braided cord with which it can be tied behind the neck. The necklace weighs 21.5 gm.
A double strand necklace of choker length of lapis lazuli, carnelian, turquoise and gold beads with a lapis lazuli cowrie shell bead in the center. The lapis shell is 1.5 cm in length, 1.14 cm in width and 5.9 mm in thickness at the top. The thickness at the bottom where there are a series of lines engraved along the edge, is 2.9mm. The drill hole diameters are 1.8mm. There is a depiction of a gold version of this bead in the “Catalogue of the Jewellery, Greek., Etruscan, and Roman, in the Departments of Antiquities, British Museum,” by F.H. Marshall, Plate IV, #579. The bead was found in Cyprus along with some Egyptian Scarabs, so one can assume that it is Egyptian as well. There are a pair of granulated rings beads to the side of each of the two drill holes; the remaining gold beads are all tubes 3 mm in diameter and 5 mm in length. The tubes face the lapis lazuli beads which are round or oblate shapes, 3 mm in length and 3.5 mm in width. Alternating with this module are carnelian tubes, 3 mm in diameter and 5 mm in length, each faced with a turquoise disc bead, length, 1.8 mm and width 3mm. At the back of the necklace and at the half way point on each side (the third gold-lapis-gold module), the gold tubes have been joined in order to keep the two strands laying parallel side by side. All the beads are ancient but only the lapis shell is of Egyptian manufacture. The rest of the beads are two thousand year old beads from Central Asia. All the lapis lazuli employed by the Egyptians in their ornaments had to come from Afghanistan through trade or tribute, so the use of materials from foreign lands had a long history. We have utilized contemporaneous beads with the Egyptian amulet; the look and authenticity of the piece is therefore maintained. Beads depicting shells were sometimes used in multi strand waist girdles. This would also explain the double drilling which indicates it was strung in such a way as to make a strap. A more modern use for this piece would be as a choker or as a headband to secure a scarf. The lapis lazuli cowrie shell bead is double drilled and strung as a two stand strap (which can be worn as a choker). The shell is associated with life giving water and the cowrie shell in particular is associated with the female genitalia making this an amulet of life giving fertility. The wearing of the beads around the hips would reinforce this association. The necklace has the four symbolic colors often seen in ancient Egyptian bead work. The dark blue of the lapis lazuli is the life giving water, the red orange of the carnelian is the color of the sun at the horizon, the turquoise blue is the sky and the gold is the life giving power of the sun. Gold is a magical material that never corrodes or tarnishes and yet is relatively easy to work. Therefore the materials themselves have a magical protective quality.