Westendorf: From Egypt to Westendorf: A pearl with a special history

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A ceramic bead made it to a field from Egypt to Westendorf. Although it is only about an inch tall, it has been lavishly decorated.

What William Farquhar did in 2014 on a plowed field
Westendorf
and brought it to the Working Group on Prehistory and Early History was something very special: a pearl with faces only about 1.4 centimeters in size. These masks, which are only a few millimeters in size, are surprisingly detailed.

The Munich archaeologist Professor Bernd Päffgen examined the find: “A really unique piece,” he says. It consists of white glass with a red band, which is divided by three black fields. Faces are shown in the fields.

Where there are still finds similar to the Westendorfer Pearl

Due to the design of the pearl, Päffgen assigns it to either the first or fourth century AD. Similar finds from a burial ground near Straubing are assigned to the later date. A pearl very similar to the Westendorfer is also found in the complex of finds from the Augsburg-Oberhausen military camp and can be assigned to the first century AD.

From Egypt to Westendorf: A pearl with a special history

At that time Westendorf belonged to the so-called Barbaricum, the outer areas of the Roman Empire on the border with Germania. The area had been conquered by the Romans in 15 BC to get passes over the
Alps
to secure. The Roman camp in this area was called Augusta Vindelicum, named after the imperial title Augustus (“the sublime”) and the Celtic tribe of the Vindelikers who had previously resided there. From this Roman camp, the city that is named today developed over the centuries
augsburg
wearing. The remains of a Roman settlement from the imperial era were also found near Westendorf.

From the other end of the Roman Empire to Westendorf

The face pearl from Westendorf, however, originally comes from the other end of the Roman Empire: “It is made using the so-called millefiori technique. At that time they were only mastered in the Orient, ”explains Päffgen. He suspects an origin in
Egypt
.

The millefiori technique enables the production of colored glass and ceramics. In the early imperial era in particular, it was often used for valuable tableware. After the technology was forgotten in Egypt, it was not rediscovered until around 1000 years later in Venice. There the technology got its current name, which means 1000 flowers.

Pearls like those from Westendorf were in fashion long after the Romans. Even 700 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Roman pearls were still strung onto necklaces across Europe. There they adorned the necks of men and women. Most of the time, people in the Middle Ages could only enrich their necklaces with “antique” individual pieces. “The remaining part was left empty or was supplemented with organic jewelry such as seeds, berries or pierced beetles,” says an article on the chronology of Roman pearls. In addition, pearls were sewn onto clothes or used as earrings. They were undoubtedly of great value as they were only found in richly decorated graves.

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Janelle B. Smith

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