What was their importance?
These come to us from the Silla kingdom, one of several kingdoms competing for territory and power on the Korean peninsula between the 1st and 7th centuries C.E. Outsiders called Silla "the country of gold" because of its great wealth and because of its large number of golden objects and ornaments, produced for its wealthy class. These earrings were most likely worn by royalty.
They are made entirely of gold and were crafted and assembled in several sections. The thick top ring is decorated with a tiny flower pattern in a technique called "granulation"—tiny pieces (granules) applied to the ring itself. Very fine craftsmanship! If you look further down, you'll notice that the very small heart-shaped pieces are affixed in a way so that would allow them to dangle and move when the earrings were worn!
Oh shoot, that's so cool!
Tell me more.
These earrings were most likely worn by royalty in the Silla kingdom, one of three kingdoms occupying the Korean Peninsula between the 1st and 7th centuries C.E. Visitors called the Silla kingdom the "country of gold" because of its wealth and power, which was often shown by the making and wearing of gold ornaments like these!
These earrings were made in several sections and assembled. Take a close look!
Were there professional jewelers who made earrings like this?
Their fine decoration suggests that they were produced in a royally sponsored workshop. The Kingdom of Silla, which was in southern central Korea, was known for prolific gold-working by the end of the period.
Do these earrings have a known owner?
We are not certain who exactly owned them, but their large, precious, and elaborate nature suggest that they did belong to a royal or noble individual.
How did they wear these earrings?
One theory is that earrings like this were worn with the cylinders at the top in the ear. Archaeologists in Korea have also discovered plugs used to stretch ear piercings to make them large enough to accommodate these large pieces of jewelry. Alternately, they may have been hung from a crown rather than directly from the ears.
How did they wear these earrings and what is the meaning of the pattern it has? Where did inspiration for the design come from?
The pattern that you see on the surface of the upper parts of these earrings is inspired by flowers and nature, which are common motifs in Korean decorative objects throughout history. It may have connotations of long life or good luck. While we don't know for certain, one theory is that these earrings would be worn like gages, the thick spool at the top going through a large hole in the ear. They may also have been hung from a crown, beside the ears.
Can you tell me more about these earrings?
Look as closely as you can at these earrings... they have lots of detail and very fine workmanship! The thick top loop was made with a technique called "granulation." Tiny gold granules (rounded, bead-shaped pieces) were applied to the gold loop in flower-shaped designs. In the lower section, tiny heart-shaped pieces called "spangles" are suspended from twisted gold wires. They would dangle and move when the earrings were worn.
These earrings were most likely worn by royalty. Silla was known as the "country of gold" by outsiders. It was one of several kingdoms competing for land and power on the Korean peninsula, but it was especially wealthy.
Do you happen to know how these fit on a person's ear?
It used to be believed that earrings like this were only made for the tomb but recent excavations have uncovered the gauges used to stretch earholes, which has led scholars to believe they could have been worn in life as well. However, we have no images of people wearing them.
It is more likely that the earrings would have been attached to the sides of a headdress worn by royalty. It's interesting that so many cultures have stretched ear lobes in this way! On the 5th floor we have a pair of large gold earrings made in Peru around the year 1100 C.E.!
Would these earrings be worn by a person of great wealth?
Golden adornments like these earrings exemplify the wealth, power, and political connections of the Silla kingdom. The use of gold was a late addition to Silla court culture but, once it was embraced, artisans became incredibly skillful in its use.
In terms of the Silla, in the 6th century, Silla was one of the four political entities in existence on the Korean peninsula. Silla, Baekje, and Goguryeo consolidated into centrally ruled kingdoms, while the fourth remained a confederation of states (Gaya).
How much do these weigh? They look heavy.
We don't actually have a weight or a purity level noted for these earrings; they were probably heavy but wearable for a short period, like a ceremony or a special event.
The larger parts of the earrings are hollow and gold is a relatively light metal.
Is there any religious significance ?
We don’t know much about the significance these held historically because earrings like these survived primarily in tombs, without written records to accompany them as explanation. They’re not depicted in any paintings either, which is another tool scholars use to gain context on an object.
We do know that the Silla Kingdom had an international reputation for their high level gold production.
What does the design on these earrings symbolize?
The upper surface of the earrings is made up of floral motifs in a design that's referred to as "granulated." (Tiny bits, like "grains"!)
In the lower portion...tiny heart-shaped pieces called "spangles" are suspended from twisted gold wires. They would dangle and move when the earrings were worn.
The sections of the earrings are joined with gold loops. These would have belonged to a royal person and would have actually been worn.