In Search of The Sun Disk

From Sumerian Queens to Rap Stars gold is the go-to material for high-quality flaunting, but why?

Last summer we talked sunshine with the introduction of the Argentinian sun pendant, and earlier this year we introduced a gold sun disk pendant, but the history of such a radiant disk is much older.

The Egyptian reverence for Ra is well documented, but reverence for the sun is an ancient and worldwide phenomenon that continued long after the Egyptian Dynasties fell. Travel back in time with us, to the mountains of Afghanistan, more than 2000 years ago.

The Kush empire was settled in the region we call Afghanistan at the turn of the millennia. For more than a few centuries, they ruled a diverse populace that spread from the Middle East to China. Many varied belief systems co-existed in relative harmony and from that harmony came beautiful art and jewelry.

Gold belt with panther and rider in medallions and at the catch. Photo Credit: Thierry Ollivier / Musee Guimet

One of the most interesting things about the jewelry and accessories from the Kush empire is how each piece shows cultural evidence of the East and West ends of the empire. The Roman empire influenced Western Kush artifacts just as the Han empire influenced the Eastern Kush artifacts. Some of my favorite pieces are from the central Kush where you can see the blending of Han and Roman influence.  Click on any thumbnail to see a larger image.

Crown with floral and sun disk details. Photo Credit: Thierry Ollivier / Musee Guimet

So why are the sun disks prevalent in jewelry designs, across cultures and through history? Our anthropological guess is that reverence for the sun began during the ice age. As small bands of humans struggled to survive during the ice age they would welcome the sun each morning and its warming rays, eventually developing numerous systems that honored the warmth-giver in the sky, eventually developing methods to coax the warmth-giver, life-giver, father-sun into growing stronger and warming all tribe members.

Gold and turquoise collar to be worn over a robe. Photo Credit: Thierry Ollivier / Musee Guimet

Found in a series of tombs in Northern Afghanistan in the late 1970s, every jewelry item you see here dated to the turn of the millennia. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan put a stop to the dig, and the pieces were hidden away to protect them from the invaders. The pieces were exhibited in Afghanistan after the invasion failed but went underground again in 1989 as internal factions posed a threat to their safety. Although Afghanistan maintains possession of these cultural items, they have been held in France since the early 2000s, where politics are more stable, and raids less likely.

Floral Hair Pins with hanging moon and sun disks. Photo Credit: Thierry Ollivier / Musee Guimet

For more information about these items and to see more Kush artifacts, visit the Afghanistan Exposition post on the French Museum of National Asiatic Arts – Guimet website.

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