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Ancient Lapis and Carnelian Beads with Etched Carnelian Eye Bead




Carnelian, Lapis Lazuli, 20k gold


The necklace is 17 ¾ inches (45 cm) in length. The necklace weighs 15 gm.







A necklace of twenty-two barrel shaped lapis lazuli beads and seventeen tabular shaped carnelian beads, the central bead being an etched carnelian “eye bead.” The eye bead is also faced with two tiny carnelian beads with granulated 20k gold ring beads to either side. All the carnelian beads are faced with granulated ring beads of 20k gold and there is a hand made gold clasp and beading tips also made of 20k gold. The carnelian eye bead is oval shaped; the widest dimension is the width which is 1.35 cm. The length is 1.1 cm and the thickness is 4 mm at the center and 1.8 mm at the edges. The drill hole perforation is 2 mm. This appears to be an early period etched carnelian bead. The two indicators are the oval shape and white ring which has been artificially applied and the large size of the drill hole. Decorated carnelian and agate beads were first developed by the Indus Valley civilization over four thousand years ago. Artisans were brought to ancient Sumer from the Indus Valley to make the carnelian beads and to produce beads with white line patterns. The center bead has a circle on each side, artificially patterned by painting on an alkali solution and then heating over charcoal. In ancient times the alkali solution was made by burning certain desert plants and then mixing the ash with gum arabic derived from the acacia thorn bush to improve adhesion. The ash (potash) contains potassium and sodium carbonate which changes the chemical composition of the agate as it is heated. It acts very much like a flux and melts into and fuses with the surface. This eye bead is from the early period of production of "etched" (a misnomer that stuck) agates and carnelians in ancient India - of about four thousand years ago. The lapis beads are 5 mm in width and 3.5 mm in length. The groups of three beads have a longer barrel bead in the center faced by two shorter beads which are roughly one half the length. The tabular carnelian beads are 8 mm in diameter and 3 mm in thickness. The diameters of the drill holes are around 1 mm which indicates that these beads are not as ancient as the carnelian eye bead, probably around two thousand years old. The focal point of the necklace is the “eye” bead which was believed to have a magical power to protect the wearer from the “evil eye.” The primary purpose of the beads was to function as an amulet but beauty was also important as was the need to show wealth and social status. Although the lapis beads are very slightly irregular in shape, the alternating long-short-long arrangement and the regular placement of the carnelian beads gives a visual structure that when combined with the gold give a very rich impression. Dark blue lapis lazuli, deep orange carnelian and the luster of high carat gold were the three colors favored by the ancient Sumerians for their ornaments. The granulated gold beads, the beading tips and the hook and eye clasp are all 20k gold.