Never before seen artefacts from the lost Egyptian cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus are due to go on display at the British Museum this week in an eagerly awaited exhibition entitled Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds. An important port, Thonis-Heracleion facilitated trade and migration between the great ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece, whilst Canopus was a major centre for worship of the Egyptian gods.
Situated at the mouth of the Nile, both cities are believed to have sank at some point during the second or third centuries AD, and lay undisturbed beneath the waters of the Mediterranean until they were rediscovered and excavated by a team of expert archaeologists over the course of the last twenty years. A selection of the recovered objects will be on display at the British Museum until November, and will include a broad range of artefacts, from colossal statues to finely worked gold jewellery.
Jewellery played an important role in Egyptian society as a means of denoting wealth and status, not only in life but also in death – as demonstrated by the vast quantities of jewellery and ornament that have been discovered at burial sites. This was due in part to the country’s mineral wealth, which meant that gold and gemstones (such as emeralds, garnet, malachite, turquoise etc.) were relatively plentiful. Craftsmen produced richly coloured gold jewellery inlaid with gemstones and glass beads, and occasionally decorated with enamels. In the later Romano-Egyptian period (30 BC – 641 AD), the emphasis turned to unadorned gold forms finely worked using a variety of different techniques, to include engraving, granulation and wirework. The zoomorphic forms that can be seen in late Hellenistic jewellery are echoed in pieces from the Romano-Egyptian period. Snakes were a particularly popular motif, as they symbolised everlasting love and the unending circle of life.
The masterfully crafted jewellery of Ancient Egypt continues to serve as an important source of inspiration for jewellery designers. In the nineteenth century for instance, jewellers such as Carlo Giuliano and Phillips Brothers produced elaborate Revivalist pieces incorporating Egyptian motifs and symbols. In the 1920s, the clean geometric lines and bright colours of Ancient Egyptian jewellery would become one of the major stylistic influences for jewellers working in the Art Deco style.
To mark the opening of Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds, we have specially selected a number of ancient and revivalist pieces from our own collection to whet your appetite. Looking to acquire your own little piece of Ancient Egypt? Browse online or visit us in store to view our extensive collection of ancient jewellery.