Scarab wing mummy net piece

Scarab wing mummy net piece
Period:Egypt, 3rd Intermediate Period, 3rd Intermediate Period
Dating:1069 BC–712 BC
Material:Faience (all types)
Physical:5.6cm. (2.2 in.) - 15 g. (.5 oz.)

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Links to others from 3rd Intermediate Period

Bronze of Sakhmet seated, Dyn. 20-23
Horus-the-Child, 1070-774 BC
Mummy bead net, Dyn. 25-31
Mummy bead net, Dyn. 25-31
Mummy bead net, Dyn. 25-31
Mummy bead net, Dyn. 25-31
Mummy bead net with scarab, Dyn. 25-31
Necklace with beads and seven amulets
Scarab with Goddess Hathor, 1070-656 BC
Sky Goddess Nut as a sow, 1085-760 BC

Links to others of type Bead net

Mummy bead net, Dyn. 25-31
Mummy bead net, Dyn. 25-31
Mummy bead net, Dyn. 25-31
Mummy bead net with scarab, Dyn. 25-31
  This deep blue faience piece is the right wing of a scarab funerary amulet. The three pieces (left wing, body, right wing) were fastened to each other and then to the mummy’s wrappings with thread routed through tiny holes in the faience. Such a scarab would be positioned just below the breastbone

Flinders Petrie classified a similar scarab (Petrie 1914:25, Plate XI-93g).

Few artifacts are as emblematic of a culture as scarabs are of the Egyptian civilization. Over thousands of years, Egyptian craftsmen turned out several hundred thousand representations of scarabs, of every size and every material imaginable, of every type and level of refinement thinkable, and put them to a wide variety of uses for a wide segment of society. Egyptians were irresistibly drawn to these peculiar beetles, and they rapidly became an integral part of their lives—and deaths.

“From the Egyptian inscriptions we now know that the beetle, which they called Khepera, was a symbol of the god, who was the ‘father of the gods’, and the creator of all things which exist in heaven and earth. He formed himself out of the matter which he himself produced, and he was identified with the night-sun at the moment when it was about to rise for a new day, and thus typified matter about to change its form of existence, or matter about to come into existence, and resurrection and new birth generally.” (Budge 1896:186)

Indeed, long before all the other trappings of Egyptian culture had been established, the people of the Nile valley already buried alongside their dead terracotta jars filled with these dung beetles. What was it about the behavior of the insect species Scarabaeus sacer that so irrevocably struck the imagination of these early Egyptians? Here was a creature that attracted attention by its relentless toil of rolling a large ball along, then buried itself deep underground with its loot. Eventually, what appeared to be the same ball resurfaced with a new beetle within, ready to burst forth. For a humanity in desperate need of tales of rebirth after burial, how could you ask for a more compelling symbol?

Once adopted, the beetle rewarded Egyptians with other potent symbolic meanings. The globe it pushed on the surface evoked the solar globe overhead, and Egyptians liked to imagine the sun as pushed along by an invisible cosmic scarab. The illusion that scarabs reproduced asexually by spontaneous generation satisfied the Egyptians’ longing for an explanation to the mystery of the beginning of the world, which they could only explain by such an act of spontaneous generation (i.e.: The scarab solved the vexing paradox of the chicken and the egg). As the god Khepri, the scarab became a creator god, as well as the agent of the daily rebirth of the sun.

But despite the privileged place of the scarab in the collective imagination of Egyptians, “it was not until two thousand years later, during the sixth dynasty of the Old Kingdom that crafted scarabs first appeared in ancient Egypt” (Redford 2001:180). Initially, these “artificial scarabs” were simply images imbued with the same aura of rebirth as the insect itself, and were used strictly as amulets. But once Egyptians realized that the underside of the scarab could become a vehicle for the expression of secondary symbolism, scarabs diversified into countless styles and uses.

The first obvious step was to supplement the power of the scarab by engraving an image or the name of another god, often that of the king—the living god of Egypt. One step removed was the inscription of an epithet referring to the god. Again, this was often a reference to the living god, such as Master of Upper and Lower Egypt. Alternately, Egyptians engraved a variety of auspicious messages with and without recourse to divinities. During the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period, there was a trend towards completely abstract, geometric decoration with increasingly complicated designs and borders. Scarabs inscribed with the name and title of their owner were used as seals, often worn as bezels on finger rings (Egyptians did not have locks on doors or coffers. The only security from theft was provided by tamper-evident clay seals). But, according to Andrews (1994:53), scarabs “soon lost their preeminence as seals to the solid-metal signet ring, which was far better able to withstand the pressure exerted during sealing.” Starting with the New Kingdom, scarabs found new uses as commemorative objects, used much like commemorative medals are today. Redford (2001:180) notes that Amenhotep III issued sixty kinds to commemorate his marriage to Queen Tye, six for his diplomatic marriage to the princess of Mittani Gilukherpa, a dozen to celebrate the completion of a pleasure lake in Thebes, and two more series to vaunt his prowess as big game hunter. It is also during the New Kingdom that scarabs were made in the honor of great pharaohs of the past (such as Thotmose III).

The vast majority of the production was fashioned out of material that was inexpensive and easy to work with: faience and soapstone. Soapstone (steatite) was particularly well suited to the manufacture of scarabs, as it is naturally soft and easy carved and polished, but can thereafter be hardened by the application of an attractive colored glaze. Consequently, soapstone scarab amulets worn on a simple cord were accessible to all layers of Egyptian society. People of means preferred to wear scarabs made of more valuable materials (gems, precious metals), within gold or silver settings.

Although most scarabs were intended to be worn by the living, a different type of scarab, the heart scarab, was developed after the Middle Kingdom specifically for mortuary use. Placed on or in the mummy, large as the palm of the hand, inscribed with Chapter 30B of the Book of the Dead, and almost invariably made of some green material, its “purpose was to ensure that the heart, regarded as the seat of intellect and conscience, would not bear false witness against the deceased in the Hall of Judgment as the opening lines ‘Oh my heart, oh my mother. . . stand not up against me as witness,’ reveal” (Redford 2001:180). Andrews (1994:56) takes a more cynical view of their intended purpose: “it would allow anyone who possessed it to live a totally reprehensible life and still enter the heaven.”

Scarabs were found to be such ideal conveyors of messages, that other creatures—cats, ducks, frogs, hedgehogs, etc.—were carved into objects analogous to scarabs, which are termed “scaraboids” by archeologists. The ‘diversification’ of scarabs would not end there, as scarabs quickly became a popular export for merchants, who spread them all over the ancient world, occasionally fostering local derivatives of the Egyptian tradition. Amusingly, two thousand years ago, Roman travelers in Egypt commonly brought back to their friends as curios the same handful of scarabs as modern tourists do today.

Amulets are objects generally kept on the person that are believed to confer some benefit to the wearer. While turn of the century archeologist Flinders Petrie (1914) enraged that “the belief in the magic effect of inanimate objects on the course of events is one of the lower stages of the human mind in seeking for principles of natural action. . .”, he had to concede that the use of amulets, talismans, and charms is very ingrained in many cultures to the present day. Many of us use lucky pens and wear religious medals without believing literally in their powers to affect our lives. But we still use them. They help us muster the confidence we need in times of self doubt. They empower us to dare, to believe in ourselves, to heal ourselves. Egyptians may have felt the same way. They used amulets on themselves and on their dead. Egyptians also seem to have had a passion for jewelry, and amulets were a good excuse to wear more jewelry.

Egyptians created an astonishing variety of amulets. The Dendera Amulets List, engraved on the thickness of a temple doorway, shows 104 different amulets for funerary use. The MacGregor Papyrus shows and names each one (Andrews 1994:7). Petrie described some 270 kinds of amulets in his 1914 monograph on the subject, and yet it was published before the excavation of many sites rich in amulets! He devised a classification system which, for all its flaws, is useful and still stands as no worse than any devised since to put order in that which defies classification: “The various ascertained meanings may be completely put in order under five great classes… (I) the amulets of Similars which are for influencing similar parts, or functions, or occurrences, for the wearer; (II) the amulets of Powers, for conferring powers and capacities, especially upon the dead; (III) the amulets of Property, which are entirely derived from the funeral offerings, and are thus peculiar to Egypt; (IV) the amulets for Protection, such as charms and curative amulets; (V) the figures of Gods, connected with the worship of the gods and their functions… Our classes then are here called amulets of
Similars, or Homopoeic.
Powers or Dynatic.
Property or Ktematic.
Protection or Phylactic.
Gods or Theophoric.”
(Petrie 1914:6 #17)

The evolution of amulets follows a fairly logical path. The first amulets were natural objects such as shells, and symbolically charged body parts of animals, such as claws from birds of prey. Then, still in predynastic times, we find figurines of significant animals, such as the hippopotamus, falcon, and jackal. Through the Old Kingdom, there was a development of animal forms with increasing levels of sophistication, and by the middle of the Old Kingdom we find the abstract symbolic subjects (such as the Ankh (sign meaning “life”), the Udjat eye of Horus, the Djed pillar, and the scarab) which remain some of the most emblematic symbols of Egyptian culture. During the First Intermediate Period we find amulets representing human body parts (ear, tongue, hand, arm, phallus, leg, heart...). The Middle Kingdom expanded the whole range of objects and gave the scarab its final form. But despite this considerable repertoire, amulets representing major gods remained rare until the end of the New Kingdom, at which time they suddenly flourished, and became as a group the most prevalent type until the end of Dynastic history. (Andrews 1994)

Bibliography (for this item)

Petrie, W.M. Flinders
1914 Amulets. Constable & Company, London, UK. (25 # 93g
plate fig.93g)

Bibliography (on Scarab)

Andrews, Carol
1994 Amulets of Ancient Egypt. University of Texas Press, Texas.

Budge, E. A. Wallis, Sir
1896 Some Account of the Collection of Egyptian Antiquities in the Posession of Lady Meux, of Theobald’s Park. 2nd edition. Harrison & sons, London, United Kingdom.

Hart, George
1986 A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, United Kingdom.

Redford, Donald B.
2001 Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, London.

Bibliography (on Amulet)

Andrews, Carol
1994 Amulets of Ancient Egypt. University of Texas Press, Texas.

Petrie, W.M. Flinders
1914 Amulets. Constable & Company, London, UK.

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