After neck ornaments, bracelets for the wrist, arm, or ankle are perhaps the oldest form of jewelry. One of the first written records of humans wearing bracelets is in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Bible mentions that there are three types of bracelets: one worn exclusively by men, one worn only by women, and one that may be worn by either sex. Although bracelets are mentioned frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures, their distinctive characteristics are not described. Some of the oldest bracelet artifacts were constructed of bronze and gold and date back to the Bronze Age. Most were penannular, or oval, with expanding, trumpet-shaped ends. The gold bracelets were typically unadorned, and hammered and bent into shape, while bronze bracelets were decorated with patterns and designs. At about this same time, German and Scandinavian warriors often wore spiral armlets for decorative and protective purposes. These armlets covered the entire forearm. In pre-Columbian America, indigenous artisans made bracelets from gold, precious minerals, and rock crystal.
In Ancient Egyptian tombs, strings of gold beads, hoops, and single, hinged bracelets have been discovered. Many of the bracelets made from plain or enameled metals were unadorned by stones. During the First Dynasty, bracelets worn by royalty were made of rectangular beads called serekhs, with turquoise, gold, and blue-glazed compositions. In Ancient Minoan and Mycenaean periods, bracelets were made of sheet metal and had elaborate loop-in-loop chains. Ancient Assyrians and Greeks often had two types of bracelets: coiled spirals in the form of interlocking snakes and stiff penannular hoops with enameled sphinxes, lions' heads, or rams' heads. In the Iron Age these spiral forms were common in Europe as well. Scythian nobles wore rigid gold bracelets with animal motifs around the eighth century b.c.e. The Scythians, a group of powerful, nomadic tribes of southeastern Europe and Asia, were known for their fine metalwork-ing and artistic style.
The Etruscans were among the first to create bracelets with separate, hinged panels, a style still popular in the early twenty-first century. Ancient Roman soldiers often were given gold bracelets to indicate their valor in battle. In Great Britain during the Celtic period, men often wore massive protective armlets and serpent-shaped bracelets. These may have been an adaptation of German and Scandinavian bracelets worn during the Bronze Age and used to protect against sword attacks. Toward the end of the pagan period in Europe, plaited silver bracelets and intertwisted strands of silver wire became popular. A decline in interest in bracelets occurred during the Middle Ages in Europe, probably due to the fact that Christian beliefs discouraged adornments, as they suggested an "unhealthy regard for personal vanity" (Trasko, p. 27). The Renaissance focus on humanism prompted a renewed interest in bracelets and other types of jewelry.
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