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Turquoise, Trade, and Statuary in Ancient Egypt

Miniature broad collar from the early Ptolemaic Period

Miniature broad collar. Early Ptolemaic Period (332–246 B.C.). From Egypt, Eastern Delta; Probably from Tukh el-Qaramus. Gold, carnelian, turquoise, lapis lazuli, H. 8.6 cm (3 3/8 in.); W. 10.3 cm (4 1/16 in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1949 (49.121.1)

In 2007, The Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted Gifts for the Gods: Images from Egyptian Temples, the first exhibition to examine how ancient Egyptians used small metal statuary to communicate with their deities. Most of the objects in the show—organized by Marsha Hill, curator in the Department of Egyptian Art—were figurative sculptures, such as a kneeling bronze king, a depiction in silver of what may be a royal woman dating to the Late Period, and a ram's-head amulet made of gold from the Third Intermediate Period.

Other works in the show, including the richly embellished miniature gold broad collar pictured above—which is inlaid with turquoise, lapis lazuli, gold, and carnelian—were also used in temple rituals. Based on its size (the collar is just over four inches wide), it was likely worn by a statuette of a deity or suspended from the prow of a ritual boat.

The broad collar figures prominently in a new Timeline of Art History essay on turquoise in ancient Egypt by Deborah Schorsch, an objects conservator who co-edited the Gifts for the Gods catalogue with Hill. The light-blue stone inlays in the work, Schorsch writes, "probably came from a still-unknown source that also supplied Iran and Mesopotamia with turquoise as early as the turn of the third millennium B.C." She suggests the possibility that the object may "reflect pathways of trade in the ancient Near East, and the influence of Persia in Egypt after it was conquered by Cambyses II in 525 B.C. and ruled intermittently by his descendants until 323 B.C."

The kneeling king, the statuette of the woman, and the ram's-head amulet also each feature in essays published on the Timeline more than a decade ago, and which have recently been expanded. One surveys the Third Intermediate Period (ca. 1070–664 B.C.) of ancient Egypt and the other covers the Late Period (ca. 664–332 B.C.). Both essays have been revised by Hill, who originally co-authored them with former Met curator James Allen in 2004.

Schorsch's essay, Hill's revisions, and more than 1,000 other articles spanning the full range of the Museum's collection, are available on our Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.

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