Jewelry in ancient Mayan culture expressed social status. Especially important to members of the royal and upper classes, jewelry and intricate headdresses had significance in celebrations and ceremonies as well as trading. Merchants wore comparatively ornate clothing and jewelry much like the nobles. Fine jewelry was also used to reward winners in spectator games. Ancient Mayan pieces generally included beads and other items crafted from bone, shells, jade, or alternate green stones. Gold, silver, bronze, and copper made occasional appearances in ancient Mayan jewelry although the culture had limited access to metals. Animal shapes, round and oblong beads, and carved faces were popular pendants.


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Aztec jewelry bears many similarities in design, style, and functionality to that of the Mayans. Although gold saw widespread use in Aztec jewelry, the people considered turquoise, jade, and specific types of feathers to be more valuable. Religious leaders and other nobles designated their level of power and influence with pendants, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, clothing ornaments, and headdresses. Certain types of jewelry also indicated military rank. Aztec artisans dedicated their time to working within their symbolism-oriented culture.


About the Author:

A jewelry designer and silversmith, Shelly Culea takes her inspiration from ancient styles seen in Mayan, Roman, and Greek cultures as well as from nature. Ms. Culea first entered the jewelry industry when she joined the Minnesota Jewelry Union in the early 1970s. Soon after, she opened Shelly Culea Jewelry & Silversmithing in Mequon, Wisconsin, where she designs and creates precious metal jewelry and hollowware on commission.


An important expression of social status, wealth, and personality throughout history, jewelry has long played a part in various cultures and societies. Worn nearly 100,000 years ago, items such as necklaces retained special value and were utilized as charms and symbols of good fortune. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Greeks and Romans placed high esteem on jewelry ornamentation. Earrings, rings, and necklaces all provided cultural symbolism and status for those who wore such pieces.

With improved jewelry-making techniques and the use of new and interesting materials, jewelry became more delicate, with intricate features a sign of superior craftsmanship. Interestingly, the Greeks and Romans did not associate gemstones with special or mystical powers as other cultures had believed in the past. Instead, stones were utilized as a main construction material to create cameos, which contained carved symbols or portraits of various gods. Initially, only portraits of Alexander the Great were allowed on cameos, a practice that was later discontinued in the latter part of the Greek period. These pieces continued to retain popularity throughout the ages.

About the Author:
A long-time jewelry designer and artist, Shelly Culea creates one-of-a-kind pieces that range from engagement rings and pendants to tea strainers, custom silverware, and candleholders. In the business for over 35 years, Shelly Culea continues to take pride in her work and incorporates a wide variety of precious metals, clay, and stone, drawing inspiration from early Greek and Roman culture. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, bird watching, and gardening.

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August 3, 2011