The History Necklace

October 22nd, 2010

I’ve always had a fascination with history; the realization that the people who came before me were every bit as real as I am besots me with a desire to get to know and understand them. I’ve read mountains of history, but my first direct encounter with it was back in the late 1980s. I had visited the British Museum and encountered an antiquities shop just across the street from it. Now, antiquities shops aren’t the kind of thing you see in your local American shopping mall; the very thought that one could purchase historical artifacts had never occurred to me. I knew that there were dealers in high-falutin’ antiquities who sold old Greek statues and stuff for vast sums, but I was too dumb to realize that there’s no floor in that market; you can purchase all sorts of ancient odds and ends. Coins, of course, and you’d be surprised how many old Roman coins are bouncing around. People are still finding hoards of old Roman coins today, two thousand years later. You can buy beads, finger rings, arrowheads, brooches, even knives and swords -- although you’re better off with the bronze items, as the iron stuff has all rusted away. There are also plenty of fakes out there, but they’re mostly in the middle range. There’s no profit in cheap fake antiquities, and there’s no getting away with selling expensive fake antiquities, because it’s too easy to be caught at it.

I recall buying an old javelin head from early Roman Britain. The next year, I really went to town, buying some old contracts dating from the 1600s, a World War I helmet, a spear head, a few bronze knives, and a really corroded bronze short sword. Over the years, I acquired more stuff, and I cherish these bits and pieces of history.

One day it occurred to me that it would be nice to carry something with me on a permanent basis, as a way of reminding me that my troubles are vanishingly small in the grand stream of history. I once wore an old Roman necklace-amulet, of a lion, and that was nice, but one day I forgot myself, put it in the washer, and when I retrieved it from the dryer, it was partly damaged. I never forgave myself for damaging a part of our historical heritage. Never.

So I went back to the drawing board trying to decide how to satisfy my need. The answer did not come to me in a flash; it developed over the course of some months. The final result was simple: assemble a necklace consisting of beads representing the entire history of planet Earth. It would take years to assemble all the parts, but I was willing to take the time. One excellent source of materials was eBay, which offers a great many oddments for sale. Of course, it’s definitely “buyer beware”, but I was confident that, by sticking with cheap stuff, I wouldn’t run much risk of getting fake materials. So I set to work building my history necklace.

Shortly into the project, I realized that I was acquiring quantities much in excess of my needs. Moreover, the individual costs of each item would certainly add up. If I spent $20 for some Egyptian faience beads here and $15 for an old Russian coin there, the total cost could well run past a thousand bucks, and I’d end up with a lot of spares. So I decided to share the benefits: I made three necklaces, one for myself, and one each for two of my dearest friends, Laura and Gemma.