10 Ancient Egyptian Gemstones
Ancient Egyptian culture is steeped in mystery and beauty. Their artwork is some of the oldest and most enigmatic in the world, and many of their creations held religious significance.
Did you know that the ancient Egyptians loved to wear jewelry? Both men and women enjoyed adorning themselves with necklaces, bracelets, anklets, crowns, and other items they believed could afford them protection as well as emphasize their prosperity.
The upper classes enjoyed their indulgences and cut their gemstones using a variety of methods, some of which we can no longer even identify.
Gemstones Worn by the Egyptians
There are some examples of ancient Egyptian jewelry which have been unearthed by archaeologists, so we know some of the gemstones they liked to use in their creations.
Gemstones were selected for their color and other attributes. For example, Egyptians associated blue with royalty, so they loved lapis lazuli and turquoise. Turquoise was also associated with the sea, and therefore with happiness.
It is fortunate for archaeologists and historians that the Egyptians attached such strong spiritual significance to their gemstones, because that caused them to bury their dead with a great deal of jewelry. This jewelry has been well preserved in the tombs which archaeologists have excavated.
- Amethyst. Some beautiful gold and amethyst bracelets were excavated from a tomb in 1901, still on the arm of the woman they were buried with. Amethyst was loved by the Egyptians because of its purple hue. Purple also represented royalty to the Egyptians. That custom also carried on to ancient Rome, but most people don’t realize it had Egyptian roots.
- Malachite. The color green was associated with fertility and the harvest. Malachite, a green stone, was very popular in Egypt. It was also associated with wisdom and discernment, and was worn by pharaohs to promote prophetic vision. Green was also believed to be a protective color, so the Eye of Horus was often made using malachite.
- Emerald. This green precious stone was a favorite of Queen Cleopatra’s. Emeralds were mined near the Red Sea, and Egypt held a monopoly on their production for an extended time period. Cleopatra regularly made gifts of emeralds to important dignitaries. Emerald, like amethyst, was a status symbol.
- Red jasper. This stone was often placed in necklaces worn by the dead when they were buried. It symbolized blood and fire, and was thought to assist with safe passage into the afterlife. It was also used as a treatment for infertility.
- Lapis Lazuli. Since this gemstone reflected the color of the sky, it was associated with holiness, creation, and resurrection. Lotus flowers in Egyptian artwork were often made out of lapis lazuli.
- Carnelian. This warm orange gemstone was also associated with blood. It was believed to purify blood, treat sickness, and also relieve pain in the back. It was sometimes used to make the Djed pillar amulet. This holy symbol represented the tree trunk where Osiris’s dead body was reassembled after Isis collected the pieces. Carnelian was associated with protection and stability. Sometimes this gemstone was also used to create heart amulets.
- Serpentine. In the Book of the Dead, the heart of the deceased is weighed against a feather by the goddess Maat to determine whether that individual deserved to enjoy an afterlife. ‘The similar heart scarab amulet, worn by the deceased, was often made out of serpentine (regularly mistaken for jade) or green jasper.
- Turquoise. This gemstone was prized for its bright blue-green color which resembles the color of the sea. In a desert country, the sea was representative of happiness and cleanliness, so the gemstone stood for the same meanings. Turquoise was so beloved that the Egyptians entitled their goddess Hathor as ‘The Mistress of Turquoise’.
- Amazonite. This gemstone was used to symbolize fertility and luck. In jewelry, it was used to promote reproductive health.
- Topaz. This gemstone was often associated with Ra, the sun god, because of its (typical) color. It was also thought to protect the wearer from evil spirits and to prevent night terrors and other sleep disturbances.
Enthusiasts of ancient Egypt who love Egyptian art and jewelry can still purchase Egyptian-themed jewelry with similar amulet designs and gemstones. Egyptian reconstructionist polytheists may still use Egyptian gemstones and amulets for protection and clarity today.
Ancient Egyptian jewelry gives us some insight into daily life thousands of years ago, and demonstrates that many of the things which we value’prosperity, health, and happiness’are as timeless as the beautiful gemstones which represent them.