The Silver Pearl: Researchers Investigate Creation of Medieval Masterpiece
A beautifully fashioned silver pearl excavated years ago at Prague Castle and made in the Middle Ages has recently been investigated and remanufactured, revealing the advanced craftsmanship that went into its creation. Researchers call the old necklace pearl a masterpiece of filigree (delicate designs made of gold or silver wire) and say it belonged to one of the wealthiest people buried in Lumbe’s garden cemetery on the castle grounds.
Prague Castle was built more than 1,000 years ago and, from about 900 AD, was the seat of the sectarian and church authorities of the Přemyslid princedom and all later Central European states that Prague was capital of.
A view of Prague Castle (Edgar Barany C / Flickr)
“Lumbe’s garden cemetery is a site where the members of the nobility were buried from the end of the ninth century to the first quarter of the eleventh century. The pearl was found in the grave of one of the wealthiest females. It was part of a necklace made of 34 semi-precious stones, glass beads, and four pearls of silver. A silver kaptorga (amulet-container) and 14 S-shaped temple rings were also part of the grave goods,” says the researchers’ paper in the journal Studies in Conservation.
“The pearl is a masterpiece of filigree and granulation work. Analyses have shown the nature of the soldering technique and the types of materials used by early medieval craftsmen to manufacture it,” they wrote.
Scanning electron microscope images of the pearl showing the detailed work that went into its construction. (Studies in Conservation photos)
The 12 mm (half inch) silver pearl has small amounts of gold and copper in parts of it, no more than 7 percent of each metal. The alloy of silver plus copper and gold makes the pearl stronger. It is composed of many detailed and finely crafted parts, formed from two hemispheres connected with a ring. The hemispheres are made up of two components made from a bent wire, soldered together at the ends and topped by a closed ring.
“Each hemisphere bears a decoration of four rings made of two thinner rings soldered together and decorated with a line of granules. The imaginary centres of the decorating rings are placed on contact parts of inner construction wires and in their position a smaller closed ring”, report the researchers.
To remanufacture the pearl, the experts had to form and cut its rings, form the omega-shaped wires, shape the granules and solder the pieces. Part of the process is pictured above. (Photographs by L. Sˇ ejvlová and J. Sobek).
The site of Prague Castle has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but scholars believe the first permanent settlement there was in the ninth century. Researchers are trying to find the town that must have supported the castle.
“Conclusive archaeological evidence of a stable settlement during the whole 9th century is still missing,” says the website Heritage Route. “However, a dense settlement is attested in the neighboring area of today’s Hradčany and the Lesser Town. We have to deal not only with settled areas but with important production and trade centers that were dispersed over the dominant hill of today’s Prague Castle. By that time, it apparently played a symbolic role, which is indicated by the find of the warrior’s grave with sword, dated to the mid-9th century. The mythical ‘Žiži’ mound and the stone throne at the top of the castle’s promontory, where the dukes were installed, give an idea of its primarily spiritual aspect. The remains of the Church of the Virgin Mary from the 9th century, the first church at this site, support this theory. The church was situated on a small projection of the northern slope of the promontory, and we can assume that a still undiscovered settlement complex was situated in its neighborhood. ”
A bronze cross from about 1000 AD was excavated from the cemetery surrounding the Church of the Virgin Mary in. (Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle, photo by Jan Gloc)
Many artifacts, metal and otherwise, have been found in Lumbe’s garden cemetery.
The burial ground was on the part of Prague Castle grounds surrounding St. Mary’s Church, which was built about 885 AD and burned in the 13 th century. St. Mary’s Church was only the second church in all of Bohemia. The church was excavated in 1925, the 1930s and 1950 and the 1970s. Archaeologists with the Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic have excavated about 141 graves in Lumbe gardens cemetery.
This golden earring decorated with mouse heads was excavated from the Church of the Virgin Mary cemetery in the 1950s. (Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle, photo by Jan Gloc)
Featured image: The silver pearl found in Prague Castle and details of the pearl (Photographs by L. Sˇ ejvlová and J. Sobek).
By Mark Miller