Diadem of semi-precious stones and gold


British Museum

British Museum

This diadem was found running from ear to ear across the forehead of a woman buried in a grave a Abydos at about 3300 BC. It is an early example of the Egyptians’ delight in contrasting highly coloured semi-precious stones with shiny precious metals. In this diadem bands of red garnet beads are flanked by chips and beads of malachite and turquoise. Between the bands are segments composed of four strands of tiny gold ring beads. These beads were made from strips of sheet gold, turned up at the ends so they touched, but a few are also soldered.

Dark red garnet could be found near Aswan or in the Eastern Desert. This semi-precious stone was made into beads until the New Kingdom (1500–1070 BC) but it was never very common, perhaps due to the small size and brittle nature of the stones available. The gold may have come from the same regions. During the early part of the Predynastic period (3900–3500 BC) small gold nuggets, washed out of the rocks by flash floods, were collected on the desert surface. By the time this diadem was made, gold was mined. Miners dug out quartz ore containing the gold from open pits and underground trenches. This ore was then crushed with large stone hammers to release the precious gold.

The vibrant green malachite and turquoise came from further away, since turquoise is only known from the copper mining areas in Sinai. The small beads and chips were probably obtained through trade with the people living there at this time. By the First Dynasty (3100 BC), Egyptians kings were sending special expeditions to Sinai to get these stones.

Jewellery of gold and semi-precious stones does not necessarily indicate that the owner was royalty, but this woman was wealthier than most. The diadem was her only jewel, but placed around her burial were more than 15 different pottery jars to store provisions for the next life. When her burial was discovered, the diadem was held in place by her hair and appeared to hold the remnants of cloth over her face. The excavators suggested this might be a veil, but it could also have been remains of a burial shroud, since there is no other evidence for face veiling in Ancient Egypt.

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  • Title: Diadem of semi-precious stones and gold
  • Date Created: -3300
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 31.50cm; Width: 3.00cm; Depth: 0.60cm; Weight: 0.009kg
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: soldered
  • Registration number: 1926,0728.16
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Abydos
  • Period/culture: Naqada II
  • Material: turquoise; garnet; malachite; gold
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Egypt Exploration Society