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With the end of our Tut ’22 exhibition at Experience Barnsley Museum a few weeks ago, hundreds of individual objects were carefully repacked by curator Ian Trumble and taken back home over the Pennines to Bolton Museum (sob!). Among them were some truly stunning pieces of jewellery in gold, lapis and coloured faience which we’d selected to reflect something of the splendours discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

Amulets of blue lapis-lazuli and gold from Bolton Museum’s collection recently displayed at Experience Barnsley Museum as part of the Tut’22 exhibition (courtesy Bolton Museums)

And with Tutankhamun’s own treasures now moved to their new home at the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, increased space and lighting will really showcase the intricacies of miniature masterpieces made for reasons far greater than simple ornamentation while the sheer quantity of gold remains as overwhelming as ever.

Of course this was even more so in ancient times, when the ruling elite wore it to set themselves apart from the majority of people for whom the sight of a gold-clad pharaoh was literally meant to dazzle - Tutankhamun’s own grandfather Amenhotep III, the sun king himself, was even named ‘Dazzling’ to emphasize his status as the living sun god on earth. And Egypt’s rulers were equally keen to demonstrate that they alone controlled the sources of all this gold, not only taken from the mines of Egypt’s Eastern Desert but from further south in Sudan, ancient Nubia, whose very name derives from the ‘nub’, the ancient Egyptian word for gold. As a region repeatedly conquered and occupied by Egypt’s rulers, their choice of golden regalia therefore had a political message as well as a religious and social dimension.

And then of course were the wide variety of stones they chose to set into their precious metal - the turquoise extracted from the mines of Sinai sacred to goddess Hathor; the dark blue lapis lazuli representing the protective night sky imported all the way from Afghanistan; the red jasper and orange carnelian symbolizing the powers inherent in blood and acquired from Egypt’s Eastern Desert, along with purple amethysts believed to protect the wearer from harm, to enhance their allure and even keep them sober (disclaimer - ineffective, in every case : )

With these and many other colourful stones representing a whole vocabulary of hidden meanings for the Egyptians, the stones’ varied powers were enhanced by their golden settings which effectively ‘plugged them in’ to the limitless powers of the sun, activating their potency while creating some of the finest jewellery ever made by human hands.

Yet of course such gems were only available to the monarchs and courtiers with the resources to acquire and produce them, royal steward Kheruef describing “embellishments in electrum and every kind of metal without limit” when describing the vast quantities of jewellery produced within the royal workshops of Malqata on Thebes’ West Bank during Amenhotep III’s long reign.

But since the dominant focus for the ancient jewellers was colour, this could also be replicated by c.1450 BC using newly-invented glass, and a form of highly-glazed ceramic Egyptologists refer to as faience (see: Egyptian Faience: Technology and Production | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History ( Initially produced as a turquoise blue-green colour, the Egyptians went on to produce black, white and purple faience, followed by yellow and red during Tutankhamun’s 18th dynasty, the resulting rich colour palette showcased in our previous Barnsley exhibition ‘Gods’ Land in God’s County: Ancient Egypt in Yorkshire’.

Selection of faience and glass beads and amulets from the 18th dynasty palace site of Gurob at Experience Barnsley Museum in 2018 (courtesy Barnsley Museums)

Made into individual round and tubular beads along with fruit, flowers, hieroglyphic symbols and household gods like Bes and Taweret, the combination of shape and colour again worked in tandem to bestow protection for those who wore them in life and in death. And whether hung from a single cord or in multiples to create the classic broad collar necklace featured on the gold mask of Tutankhamun and the painted bust of Nefertiti, X-rays and scans reveal that beneath her linen wrappings, the same iconic neckwear is still worn by Merit, wife of the architect Kha.

Image of Merit’s collar compared to Petrie Museum collar from Amarna, featured in our BBC series ‘Ancient Egypt: Life and Death in the Valley of the Kings’ (30 mins 40 into Life and Death in the Valley of the Kings - Part Two | Ancient Egypt - Life and Death in the Valley of the Kings - Part Two | By Dr Joann Fletcher | Facebook) (copyright: Immortal Egypt)

To get an idea of its actual colours, we therefore filmed this alongside a similar example found at Amarna and now in the Petrie Museum. Both are made from multiple faience beads representing grapes, mandrake fruit, palm-leaves and various flower petals, while conservation of the Amarna example reveals that one of its turquoise beads bears the actual cartouche of none other than Tutankhamun himself Jewels of an Ancient Civilization | UCL Researchers in Museums.

As many people know, his name, meaning ‘the living image of the god Amun’, was written using the ‘ankh’ sign for ‘life’, frequently carved into the walls of temples and tombs where it symbolized the promise of eternal life. And making it a popular choice in jewellery manufacture too, faience ankh amulets were mass produced in small moulds fashioned from Nile clay by those whose fingerprints can still be found on their rough undersides.

Clay moulds in the Bolton Museum collection (copyright: Immortal Egypt)

In fact we were so inspired by these modest-looking little moulds that we scanned one and made 3D printed copies, given to Barnsley Museum’s Learning Lab, to allow schools to make authentic Egyptian amulets while learning a few hieroglyphs along the way. They were also used to produce a limited edition of 100 authentic ankh amulets, each branded with the ‘Tut’22’ logo and sold to raise funds for Barnsley Museums & Heritage Trust and Bolton Museum.

Ankh amulets coming soon to our store Store | Immortal Egypt and (copyright: Front Row Live & Immortal Egypt)

And with these amulets giving us a real link with the ancient craftspeople who created these pieces each imbued with special meaning, it’s very much how I felt on receiving an unexpected gift – a unique silver pin set with turquoise, lapis lazuli and jasper created by Barnsley silversmith Victoria Brailsford.

Jewelled silver pin created by Victoria Brailsford @thunder_moon_jewellery (copyright Thundermoon Jewellery)

Made for the recent exhibition ‘Yorkshire Makers Inspired by Yorkshire Writers’ at Castleford’s Northern Fringe Gallery Yorkshire Makers Inspired by Yorkshire Writers - An Exhibition by Northern Fringe Gallery - Experience Wakefield, the artists who produced the content had been inspired by books ranging from Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Barry Hines’ ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ (aka ‘Kes’) to my ‘Cleopatra the Great’, whose conclusion (spoiler alert!) raises the likelihood the great woman died by snake venom, albeit stored in the hollow centre of one of her trademark hairpins (see also: Internet Archaeol. 42. Fletcher. The Egyptian Hair Pin: practical, sacred, fatal (

And as I held the jeweled silver pin Victoria had made I was blown away, not only by her incredible skill and generosity, but by how much feeling and meaning can be contained in a single piece of jewellery, something the ancient Egyptians themselves so brilliantly achieved throughout their long, long culture and which we’ll be exploring in a major new project coming soon…….


Jo at Abu Simbel_edited.jpg

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