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Museu Nacional de Arqueologia


Tesouros da Arqueologia Portuguesa (Treasures of Portuguese Archaeology) The National Archaeological Museum possesses in its collections a remarkable number of ancient jewellery objects, coming from excavations or, more frequently, bought to goldsmiths or to the people who found them, which, by its representative quality, allow a general vision of the evolution of this art in the present Portuguese territory, from the beginnings of metallurgy until the Early Middle Ages. These objects were gathered throughout several decades and the particular circumstances of their acquisition explain the frequent absence of information about the conditions of the finding and archaeological contexts which would allow both to determine the chronological position or the geographical location of the findings, and to draw conclusions which go beyond the simple material analysis of the objects, limited to formal, stylistic or technical aspects. In fact, the archaeological materials are not in themselves finished documents and to make them historically valued it is necessary to know the exact context in which they were found, in which they had a function. Since remote antiquity, the Iberian Peninsula was known by the richness of its natural metal deposits, where there was copper, tin, gold and plate in abundance. It is understandable, thus, based on the present knowledge from archaeological research, that to the comparative poverty of the shepherd and farmer communities of the Neolithic should succeed, with the adoption of metallurgy, a remarkable economic and cultural development. The primitive maritime commerce of the Mediterranean and of the Atlantic contributed, from early times, to the encounter in the Peninsula of influences of distinct origins, which would shape the character of the artistic production, especially the jewellery work. THE BEGINNINGS OF GOLD METALLURGY CHALCOLITHIC AND BRONZE AGE The first objects in gold, in Europe, date from the 5th millennium BC and were produced in the region of the Balkans. The South and West of the Iberian Peninsula constitute a second important production centre of European jewellery, although more recent. Here, the gold started to be worked during the 3rd millennium BC, practically at the same time as copper metallurgy, that is, with the development of the Chalcolithic, or Copper Age. In this time, the production processes were limited to the crushing of the nuggets, through successive operations of cold hammering and annealing, until spirals and threads, or wires, and blades of variable thickness were obtained, from which the objects were shaped, by printing or “repoussé”. Simple shapes were then produced: thin gold blades, cut in threads and perforated, diadems, pendants, tubular beads and spirals. The decorative motives were rare and exclusively geometric. In most cases, they were limited to edges with small points made by “repoussé”, or decorated bands made by incision. The Bronze Age brings an important technological innovation: moulding. The ornaments made in moulds became widespread, among which there are many solid bracelets with circular or oval section. The geometric decoration acquires expression, becoming more and more rich and exuberant: lozenges, triangles and zigzags organise themselves in compositions of great beauty and complexity, made on pieces, which become heavier and heavier in a clear exhibition of symbolic ostentation of the Power. THE EUROPEAN JEWELLERY OF THE LATE BRONZE AGE: ITS PEAK OF GLORY AND REVOLUTION Towards the end of the Bronze Age, the Atlantic European front, from Portugal to Ireland, was involved in a complex exchange net. The metal, which circulated, then, as raw material or manufactured product, played the major role in this long distance trade. In order to guarantee the success of these enterprises as well as the precious control of and access to the mining places, chiefs, whose influence and power were measured according to the size, number and weight of the jewels they put on, exchanged gifts among themselves. To the knowledge and improvement of the technological processes already known innovations of great importance were then added. And they were, for example, the lost wax technique and the welding, which allowed the making of new shapes, which became heavier and heavier and above all more and more elaborate. The goldsmith's work at the time in Portugal displays some of its most brilliant expressions, true masterpieces in art and know-how of the old goldsmiths, such as: The necklace from Herdade do Álamo, the armlets from Cantonha or the "xorca" (ring-shaped necklace with pendants) from Sintra. In this period three large "families" of jewels can be individualised: Rings and bracelets, obtained with the lost wax technique (Estremoz-Vilhena type); solid gold torques and armlets bearing the welding technique and a typical geometric decoration; and necklaces, which may weigh up to 2Kg, and have complex removable closing systems. ORIENTAL INFLUENCE ON JEWELLERY: RUPTURE WITH THE PAST FIRST IRON AGE The first contacts between Iberia and the Mediterranean World, no doubt dating from a very early time, become extraordinarily important from the 8th century BC, due to the establishment of a regular trade by the Phoenicians. Under the influence of Tartessos, a brilliant civilisation develops in the South of the Iberian Peninsula. And this civilisation integrates in its traditions the uses, tastes and new ways of living, which are characteristic of the Eastern Mediterranean. Jewellery is perhaps the field which is more influenced by these deep changes: to the heavy and solid jewellery, which characterises the Bronze Age, there follows a production, which by favouring lightness, chromatic contrasts and discontinuances shows itself, above all, in the exuberance of a new decorative language. The previous geometric limits are abandoned. Vegetal, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic themes displaying a clear ideological and symbolic meaning are now favoured. The jewellery with Oriental influence is thus characterised by a sharp decrease in weight, an intentional change in the gold quality and by the use of alloys with different percentages of other metals and by the introduction of two new techniques - filigree and granulated. The list of shapes, mostly hollow and composite, becomes wider: diadems and articulated plaques, necklaces with diversified beads, amulets, rings and, above all, the earrings, which in Portugal found such a success and approval that even nowadays they are the true image (ex-libris) of the Portuguese jewellery. JEWELLERY FROM FORTIFIED CAMPS (“CASTREJA”) IRON AGE IN THE NORTH OF PORTUGAL Since the Late Bronze Age up to the conquest of Rome, a very peculiar cultural reality settles down in the North of Portugal. It is usually called “Fortified Camp Culture” (“Castreja”) because of one of its most emblematic characteristics: the settlement is organised in fortified camps of variable size, sometimes endowed with the functions of central places. They are the so-called “Castros” and “Citânias”. This culture is characterised, in its final phase, pre-Roman and Roman, by monumental sculptures in granite. It made the representation of princes or heroes – the famous Galician warriors – and the representation of wild boars and it might have had a tutelary meaning. Integrating influences, clearly Central European but also Mediterranean, the jewellery from fortified camps ("castreja”), stresses the specificity and originality of this region by means of two types of paradigmatic adornments: the “torques”, symbol of prestige and power of the chief warrior and the earring, feminine jewel in its highest degree. THE RING AND THE COIN ROMAN ERA Despite the continuous stream of gold towards Rome, coming either from the exploiting of gold mines started by Augustus (whose production reached up to 7,800Kg a year; sometimes 4.300Kg were extracted on a single day) or from the pillaging by the Roman armies, which only between 209 and 169 BC assembled 4 tons of gold and 800 tons of silver, the Romans didn’t bring any significant innovations to the peninsular jewellery. However, two categories of objects deserve to be highlighted: the coin mostly in alloys of copper but also in noble metals (silver and gold) and the rings. The Romans seem to have been among the first peoples to wear engagement and wedding rings, the “anulus pronubis”, usually on the third finger of the left hand, through which the “vena amoris” flowed. They surely are responsible for having turned this kind of jewel into a common adornment and worn in multiple functions: social indicators of prestige, guarantee of diplomatic representation, mere adornment or bearing magic and healing functions.
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