Faience and shell bead necklace

British Museum

British Museum

Most of the beads of this necklace are of faience, apart from the groups of three large white disc beads, which are of shell. The beads match those described by the excavator, Flinders Petrie, as 'small blue and black glazed disc, shell disc, blue glazed cylinder, flattened crumb'.

In his notes Petrie also remarks on the poverty of the grave goods, which consisted of a few pots, amulets and beads, suggesting that the burial was not of an élite individual. Faience was a relatively cheap material. Great variety in colour could be produced easily by adding different minerals to the basic mixture before it was fired. Inexpensive, manufactured faience sometimes deliberately imitated semi-precious stones, which were relatively expensive because they had to be quarried and shaped. The biconical beads in this necklace were given a textured finish by adding small crumbs of faience of a contrasting colour to the bead before it was heated.

The necklace illustrates the variety of shapes and sizes of bead that were used in jewellery during the First Intermediate period. The use of contrasting shapes, colours, materials and textures was a common technique in all periods.

Show lessRead more


  • Title: Faience and shell bead necklace
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 49.60cm (string)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: glazed
  • Registration number: 1899,1017.15
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Hiw
  • Period/culture: First Intermediate
  • Material: glass; glazed composition; shell
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Excavated by Egypt Exploration Fund