About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


More golden than gold

What is more precious than gold? And what gold sparkles more than gold?
    Last Monday a small group from our church went for a bible class field trip to the Metropolitan Museum. We visited the soon-ending exhibition “From Assyria to Iberia.” It offered us great insight into the Near Eastern and Mediterranean Iron Age, an important period for understanding the Hebrew Bible.
    We saw and discussed the famous Tel Dan Stele and we observed several centuries of development of writing. We were impressed by imposing Assyrian bas-relieves and we admired marvelous Phoenician ivories and bronzes. But many of us were particularly captivated by a special kind of ancient gold jewelry.
Pendant with granulation from the
permanent exposition of the MtMu
    Several jewels in the exhibition sparkled and glittered as if made from some brighter gold. On closer inspection we could see that these jewels were covered with minuscule golden grains, the tiniest little balls you can imagine, often smaller than a fracture of a millimeter.
    Classical optics informs us, that a surface covered by granules is visually shinier than regular polished metal. A plate of metal reflects light almost entirely in one direction (similar to that of a mirror); while a high number of small beads behaves very differently: a spherical surface reflects light in many directions and this effect is cumulatively maximized when many balls are set side by side. This phenomenon is called diffused reflection.
    Jewelry granulation provides an almost uniform dispersion of light; thus it gives the impression that a surface covered with granulation is shinier than a regular polished surface.
A drawing of diffused reflection of parallel light beams.
    This highly sophisticated jewelry technique appeared in the middle bronze age Mesopotamia and slowly spread around the ancient world. Golden granulation was one of the highly prestigious (and also tightly guarded) technologies which were kept among artisans working in royal workshops. Nevertheless this technique continued spreading by the way of social and political phenomenon of gift giving.
    Friendly or neutral kings competed and ranked each other by exchanging gifts of high technological finesse. The better and more valuable the gift secured to the giver the higher level of prestige. And alliances between higher and lower monarchs were sealed with transfers of these prestigious technologies and exchanges of artisans.
    This is something for us to think about this Sunday as we mark the Epiphany. The epiphany story of Magi is most likely legendary and non-historical. But even as a legend it grows from a rich soil of the Ancient Near East tradition of political gift giving and the artisan and scholar visits.
    Come this Sunday to search for an answer to the question: what is brighter and more precious than even granulated gold?

1 comment:

Beth C said...

Granulated gold works in the same way as pave' diamonds, whose many facets reflect and refract the light more brilliantly than larger gemstones of the same carat weight.