Gold and the Gods: Jewels of Ancient Nubia

Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA)

Through January 8, 2017!

Content and images by: Caressa Losier

Jewels of Ancient Nubia | Trending in

Burial Treasures of Ancient Nubia

Thousands of years ago, Northern Sudan and Southern Egypt made up a historic area that was once called ancient Nubia. Its rich culture and history is contained deep inside ancient tomb chambers, housing luxurious grave goods made of silver, bronze and gold. Ancient Nubia used funerary jewelry and art in their burial practices to express their belief in eternal life, or the idea that their ancestors continue living, even after death. Gold and the Gods: Jewels of Ancient Nubia, is an exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA) done in collaboration with Harvard University, to help us understand the life and culture of one of the most advanced kingdoms in ancient Africa, through beautiful amulets, bracelets, earrings, ornaments and several other breathtaking artifacts.

Pretty Wings

Ancient Nubia | Trending In

Isis Winged Pectoral taken at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Before the discovery of gold, jewelry in this region was made from bones, seashells and animal skin. It wasn’t until an ancient Nubian group of people, the Kushites, began gathering gold along the Nile River and using it to create beautiful jewelry that embodied their deep rooted rituals and beliefs.

The term Nubia comes from the Egyptian word “nub”, meaning gold. The golden Winged Isis Pectoral pays homage to the religious deity, Isis, whose symbolism has a unique story in Kushite and Egyptian culture. Isis, meaning “throne woman” is the Goddess of rebirth. She is the daughter of Nut and Geb; sister of ancient Goddesses, Osiris, Nephthys, and Set. She commonly takes on the form of a kestrel, Egypt’s most common falcon, and her wings stretched out while on one bended-knee symbolizes protection against evil. Isis was also a Goddess of healing, magic and she is known as the first and most important Goddess in Egyptian mythology and in ancient Nubia. In hieroglyphic hymns, Isis is praised as “she who made light with her feathers and wind with her wings.”

Reflection: Shabaka’s Mirror

Ancient Nubia | Trending In

Shabaka’s Mirror taken at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

King Shabaka was a Kushite pharaoh, whose name means “he who blesses two lands”. As Egypt’s second Nubian ruler, he reigned from 712-698 BC, during the 25th Dynasty. In ancient Nubia, this era was known as the Nubian Dynasty or Kushite Empire, and at the time, mirrors were commonly made in the shape of an ankh. This represents the powers of Life and the Watery Abyss. Shabaka’s mirror on the other hand, does replicate the traditional ankh-style mirrors.

This bronze-disked, silver-handled gem also features intricate detail that tells us a lot about ancient Egyptian beliefs and those hailing from ancient Nubia.  A closer look will reveal Goddesses: Hathor, Tefnut, Mut and another feminine silhouette who could potentially be Shabaka’s sister, Amenirdis. The mirror itself is said to represent the power and great significance of women in Ancient Nubian history. 

Nubian Carnelian Necklace

Ancient Nubia | Trending In

Nubian Gold and Carnelian Necklace taken at Museum of the Fine Arts Boston

54 gold pendants styled as a ram’s head and human’s head make up this beautiful Carnelian Nubian necklace. According to MFA, the ram’s head may have some connection with Amani, or Amun, King of the Gods, whose name means “the hidden one” in ancient Egyptian tongue. The human female head may derive from the Goddess of Mut, Mother of the Gods, whose name means “mother”. 270 BC-320 AD.

See more precious jewels from ancient Nubia  below!

Egyptian Burial Treasures

When Nubia conquered Egypt, several of its customs, like funerary art and jewelry, were also incorporated into the culture. At some point, Egypt conquered Nubia, as well. The power struggle continued over time, which blurred border lines between Nubia and other cultures that’s visible in both territories. Museum of Fine Art Boston’s Ancient Egyptian Collection, gives us a glimpse of what was discovered in the tombs of ancient Egypt, Nubia’s Northern neighbor. See them for yourself below.