The wearing of jewelry has very ancient roots. The oldest examples discovered to date are about 75,000 old. Found in a cave in S Africa in 2004, they consist of pea-sized pierced shell beads that were probably strung into a necklace or bracelet. Other African beads have been found dating back some 45,000 years. In the ancient world, the art of jewelry making reached an elaborate development in East Asia with its wealth of precious stones and pearls. Egyptian relics also show a rare craftsmanship. The jewelry is largely emblematic, very colorful, and displays lotus flower and scarab motifs. Beads were used extensively, as in broad collars, and were often used for bartering. Armlets and anklets were also worn.
The Greeks were highly expert goldsmiths and preferred exquisitely wrought ornaments of metal unadorned with color. After 400 B.C. precious stones were set in gold; later the cameo was used. Roman jewelry, although based on Greek and Etruscan forms, was massive and valued rather for precious stones and cameos than for artistic settings. Ropes of pearls were especially prized. Byzantine jewelry, influenced by East Asia and lavish in color and design, was of composite Greek and Roman styles.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.