New PCMA publication: Beyond Ornamentation. Jewelry as an Aspect of Material Culture in the Ancient Near East

PAM Special Studies is a separate fascicle of our journal Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean which will bring together articles devoted to a particular subject. The introductory issue is Beyond Ornamentation. Jewelry as an Aspect of Material Culture in the Ancient Near East, edited by Zuzanna Wygnańska and Amir Golani

Personal adornments, modern and ancient, are often perceived as merely decorative objects used for embellishing body or robe. This book refutes this simplified opinion by showing that jewelry carries a load of information regarding the social and financial status, gender, ethnic affiliation and religious beliefs of its wearers.

The function and meaning of personal adornments is explored here in 12 papers dealing with this subject in antiquity and prehistory – from the 6th till the 1st millennium BC – from Egypt and the Near East, through the Persian Gulf to the Caucasus. Their authors, affiliated with several research institutions worldwide, analyze various aspects of jewelry, focusing foremost on the context of its discovery. This approach affords a better understanding of who and why was using the jewelry and shows how many nuggets of significant information regarding the functioning of ancient societies can be gained from a careful study of personal ornaments.

Most of the articles published in this volume are the result of a workshop of the same title organized by the volume editors at the 8th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (ICAANE) held at the University of Warsaw in 2012.

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An article by Ilia Heit on the production of shell beads in the Neolithic settlement on the Mil plain in Azerbaijan reports on the technological developments and changes in the economy and social structure in the 6th millennium BC. The shells used for bead manufacture were imported from the Caspian Sea region, even though other seemingly equally attractive materials were at hand. The local community must have organized the logistics of the enterprise and specialized in the processing of this particular material which obviously was bestowed with special meaning. The article touches therefore also the subject of specialization in a non-utilitarian craft.

A study, by Maarten Horn, of a hippopotamus-shaped amulet found in a grave at a Predynastic site in Egypt, suggests that the object may be an attestation of an intercultural transfer of ideas in the 5th and 4th millennium BC. The author explores the idea that it may have been related to belief in the magical and life-giving properties of powdered malachite presumably stored in hippopotamus-shaped vessels. This would provide us with a glimpse in<link /wp-content/uploads/template/main/file/uratowane_przed_potopem.pdf>Uratowane przed potopem</link>to the spiritual life of the Egyptians in the Predynastic period.

Studies regarding the choice of cowrie shells for the production of particular ornaments point, according to Amir Golani, to the existence of special cult-related meanings associated with some materials, which were transferred across cultures and generations. In the case of cowrie shells, the tradition of their use for ornamental purposes continues to this day, although the original meaning with which they used to be associated has since been lost.

Zuzanna Wygnańska provides a detailed study of diadems from 3rd millennium BC Mesopotamia, concentrating on their find context and concluding that the diadems were not just ornaments for members of the elites, but were also used by common people during certain ceremonies, perhaps associated with key life events, such as rites of passage, marriage or induction into a holy order.

Dariusz Szeląg traces ritual practices in a small rural community from 3rd millennium BC Syria by analyzing sets of zoomorphic adornments buried with children in Tell Rad Shaqrah.

Changes in jewelry assemblages are found to reflect a cultural transition from the Chalcolithic to the Early Bronze Age in southern Caucasus. Eleonora Carminati points to the introduction of innovative production techniques and choice of new materials on the one hand, and on the other to a continuation of some jewelry forms, indicating a cognitive link between the subsequent cultures.

Jewelry is a measure of cultural interaction in an article by Magda Pieniążek and Ekin Kozal on contacts between Anatolia and the Aegean and Mesopotamia in the 2nd millennium BC. Distance from maritime trade routes and the geopolitics were factors that impacted access to raw materials and consequently influenced differentiation in the repertoire of personal adornments of coastal and inland Anatolian sites.

The topic of jewelry as a reflection of trade contacts was also undertaken by Ann Andersson in a study of ornaments from 2nd millennium BC settlement layers on Failaka island in Kuwait, as well as by Rebecca Ingram in her discussion of the immense collection of vitreous beads found on the Uluburun shipwreck dated to the late 14th century BC.

Personal adornments are interpreted as elements of cultural, group or ethnic identity construction in two articles, one by Josephine Verduci concerning the appearance of Philistines in southern Levant, the other by Amir Golani proposing the interpretation of particular ornaments as characteristic of Biblical Israelites of the Iron Age.

Finally, the study of ornaments from 800 BC Hasanlu in Iran by Megan Cifarelli shows how jewelry could be used to construct a militarized elite identity in Iron Age society.

Amir Golani, Zuzanna Wygnańska (eds), Beyond Ornamentation. Jewelry as an Aspect of Material Culture in the Ancient Near East [=Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 23/2], Warsaw, 2014