Saturday, February 15, 2014
Today in Western culture both men and women wear rings. We wear them because we enjoy looking at the stones that they display or because they symbolize an important event or relationship, such as marriage or membership in a society or age group.
In ancient Egypt, the earliest known rings are simple bands. They have been found in late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period burials (ca. 2250-2050 B.C.). By Dynasty 12 (ca.1981-1802 B.C.), rings became a more common type of jewelry, especially among the elite members of society. In this period, scarabs, beautifully carved in hard stones, or cast in gold or silver and inlaid with semi-precious stones are
known. Some very fine examples of Middle Kingdom rings may be found in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. Scarabs mounted in rings are also made in glazed steatite, and some of these appear to have been created for use as seals. Such rings would have been worn by an official and removed at the appropriate time to be pressed into mud to seal a document or container.
In the New Kingdom (ca. 1550-1070 B.C.), rings occur in many more styles including solid metal rings with hieroglyphs that are engraved into the bezel. In many cases, this style would have replaced the glazed steatite seal of the Middle Kingdom. In Dynasty 18 (ca. 1550-1295 B.C.), mold-made faience rings are also known. Molds allowed for rapid and therefore inexpensive production of many rings, and were a perfect way to make rings that could be handed out a festival to celebrate the event, for example the Heb-Sed of Amenhotep III. Unfortunately, so far we have only found parts of these celebratory rings, but the earlier excavations found a number of complete, or nearly complete examples.
In the Museum’s collection, a facsimile shows a young woman offering wine to a seated couple. If you study the scene carefully, you can see bands of blue across her fingers, often more than one per finger finger. It is these kinds of rings that we find at Malqata.
Today, Azib, who was clearing a pit, handed us a group of tiny faience fragments: two small cylinder beads, two pieces of ring shanks, and one that we couldn’t easily identify. After work, we looked at the Malqata rings on the MMA website and figured out what part of a ring Azib had found. It’s a small section of an open-work Wedjat eye that comes from the area marked in the photograph below.
Diana Craig Patch