Necklaces and Collars
The ancient Egyptians loved to wear a variety of necklaces and collars made from a huge range of materials. Of course, only the wealthy could afford gold, silver or precious stones, but shells, wood and bone were more readily avaliable to those on a budget. The upper classes and the gods are almost always shown wearing a significant quantity of jewellery. Collars made from precious metals were often given as gifts by pharaoh to loyal supporters and so were a source of great pride.
Probably the most characteristic form of Egyptian jewellery is the collar ("wesekh" or "weskhet"). The collar often had a counterpoise, known as "mankhet" ("that which lives"). It was composed of cylinders or tubes strung in horizontal layers around a central choker. The collars often have an outer row of leaf-shaped pendants, but sometimes the leaf beads are strung between two rows of horizontal beads.
The collar was a favourite of the gods and the pharaohs and from the Eighteenth Dynasty they were given to officials, dignitaries and soldiers as a mark or honour. Although the collars were often made of gold, example made of other precious metals (such as copper and silver), gemstones (most notably Feldspar, Carnelian, Jasper, Turquoise and Lapis), stone and faience have also been recovered.
The menat was closely associated with the goddess Hathor. It was composed of numerous strings of small beads gathered at each end and threaded through two or more larger circular beads. Many examples also have a counterpoise which often included an inscription to Hathor or an image of the goddess.
The menat was worn by priests and priestesses of Hathor, and was used by female and male dancers along with the Sistrum (also associated with Hathor). It is thought that it also became a musical instrument when combined with the sistrum. The earliest examples so far discovered belonged to two priestesses of Hathor who lived during the Old Kingdom.
The shebyu (shebu or shebiu) collar was first introduced by Thutmosis IV (New Kingdom). It was often worn by New Kingdom pharaohs but was also given as a reward for valor or distinguished service, especially during the reign of Akhenaten.
The collar consisted of up to five rows of circular biconical beads strung side-by-side and joined by a central clasp. In some cases, there are also a number of thinner strands hanging from the central clasp (such as in the collar of Psusennes, left).
The collars were often formed entirely out of gold, but examples of collars incorporating faience (such as one from the tomb of Tutankamun).
Neckalces and amulets
Simple necklaces were often created using tiny beads of lapis, malachite, turquoise, silver and gold. Beautiful charms featuring powerful amulets such as the Ankh or Eye of Horus or representing one of the gods or goddesses were often added to the design to create more complex pieces.
copyright J Hill 2015