Wednesday, May 9, 2012


When I was a child, I was fascinated by a signet ring that my father wore.  The gold band was inset with a dark brown stone.  The stone's face was carved with the family name and crest.  Little did I know the tradition which inspired this ring was thousands of years old, and similar jewelry was being worn by men on the other side of the world during that time.

Discovering an Ancient Seal
A tiny seal measuring 2 centimeters is making a huge impact in the antiquities world. The seal was unearthed in an archeological dig on the Temple Mount in Israel and is from the late first Temple period over 2700 years ago. Seals of this type were mounted on rings and were used to sign documents during that period. According to archeologist Eli Shukrun, "The name Matanyahu, like the name Netanyahu, means 'gift to God.' These names are mentioned several times in Scripture. They are typical of names in the Judean Kingdom at the end of the First Temple period – from the late 8th century BCE until the Temple's destruction in 586 BCE."
Engraved gems were predominantly made of semi-precious stones. In the Western tradition they were usually made with images on one side. However, many Middle Eastern seals display their own traditions. In fact, in the Bible, seals with words are mentioned bearing the names of the Tribes of Israel instead of images.
Although the Matanyahu gem will likely not be sold, it is interesting to see what other gems sell for in the marketplace.  In December of 2011, Christies sold a late Roman Chromium Chalcedony Magic Gem from circa 3rd century A.D.  The stone, pictured above from both sides was described in the sale as a "convex oval stone engraved on the obverse with Chnoubis, the lion-headed serpent with his radiate head in profile to the left; the reverse with the sign of Chnoubis, framed by his name in Greek: XNOYBIC". It sold for $2,750.00. This seems a small price to pay for something of such interest and beauty.  When comparing the carved gems to other types of antiquities, the price point of many seems unusually reasonable.

1 comment:

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