Can you guess this weeks topic? Bones! Sorry, I tried to make a pun about it (just for Alisa, who adores puns). Specifically bone used in jewelry, jumping off last weeks introduction to the history of jewelry. Bones seemed a natural place to begin, as it is one of the oldest materials used by humans and other hominids (in the case of Neanderthals) as decoration in jewelry, dating back as far as 6,500 BC in some cases (farther in other cases).
Side note: for those unfamiliar with the term hominid it just refers to the primates (human’s included) and our ancient fossil ancestors. That’s the basic definition, and you’ll here me throw it around when talking about ancient humans or our close relatives, like Neanderthals.
Using sharpened stones or flints of stone with flat surfaces, ancient people worked bone into a variety of beads and figurines. Depending on the animal it came from determined the amount of work put into the bone bead. Bird bones for example need very little work as they are hollow. One of the main purposes of working with bones originally was spiritual motivation, as bones were believed to poses magic. Often the beads or figures created were meant to be used in religious ceremonies, or attempts to invoke magic by the wearer. It was also a very readily available material in a hunter gatherer society — which is what ancient people and our ancestors exclusively started out as.
Waste none want none.
As the shift from hunter gatherer groups began to turn to agricultural based societies, animals began to become even more readily available and by default, their by products (hides, bones, furs, etc) were more accessible. Greater supply meant greater use, and bone jewelry began being used to identify rankings and tribes. As civilizations we are more familiar with formed, like Ancient Rome, the spiritual motivation for bone work in jewelry began to subside in European cultures. However, in Mesoamerica, bone work in jewelry was very much still alive in spiritual work. Mesoamerican socieites pre Columbus’s invasion worked animal bones into intricate carvings and art works (the same could be said for North American indigenous tribes who often wore bone beads for spiritual rituals and symbolic status purposes).
During the Renaissance and into the Georgian, and Twentiesth century, the use of bone jewelry began to fall byside, (excluding the interest in ivory which could be a whole other blog post) and by the twenty first century, bone beads were replaced by a pleathora of other materials. New bone material for jewelry became far and few.
Today, people still use bone in jewelry making. Indigenous people keep their traditions alive by continuing the practice of their ancestors. Goth culture and those into the macabre, bone jewelry (specifically tiny animal skulls) has gained popularity. Few places however provide ready animal bones and people often access these through other means, such as hunters, online, or animal dumping grounds where road kill will be tossed on dump sights.
The lack of production currently of bone jewelry in most places makes vintage bone jewelry that much more special. Likewise, it is a bit of history that goes back as far as modern humans. We have some incredible bone jewelry in the shop that came from a vintage necklace that was broken. We always get excited when littl bits of history trickle into our shop. Come by and see not only these little treasures but check out the other special bitties we have in the store.