scarab jewellery 001

 

Bracelet c.1400BCE (New Kingdom) Egypt, findspot unknown, gold, lapis lazuli, cornelian and glazed composition, 20.0cm length, British Museum, London

Scarab beetles were associated with the gods Atum/Re and Khepri in ancient Egypt[1]. According to one conception of the universe, the scarab beetle was the sun travelling across the sky[2] and its protective imagery was used as a stone seal on the mummified remains of the heart, as its hieroglyph meant ‘come into being’ or ‘to exist’[3]. It also was known to actually replace the heart within the mummy[4]. In particular, it was the movement that the dung beetle, Scarabeus sacer, made as it rolled a ball of dung across the ground that was considered interpretative of the sun’s movement across the sky, with the scarab god, Khepri, being responsible for the sun’s transit[5]. The analogy of the self-creating Khepri, known as ‘he who is coming into being’, was reinforced by the scarabs being seen to emerge from these balls, which was the result of these balls containing the beetle’s eggs[6].

This New Kingdom bracelet from Egypt is dated c.1400BCE. Its composition is gold, lapis lazuli, cornelian and glazed ceramics. The lapis lazuli scarab beetle plays a central role in its design, with the main features of the beetle being outlined in gold filigree focusing on the head, thorax and wings. The six legs of the insect are designed so that they provide linkages to the rest of the bracelet, with the strong front and back legs holding the links and the smaller middle legs maintaining the balance of the design. The filigree outlines the wing casings and the thorax of the beetle and the lapis lazuli is carved out to give tiny detailed eyes to the front of the head. Overall, the scarab maintains a strong ovoid design which is also displayed in many other depictions of the scarab beetle in Egyptian art and design.

The actual scarab beetle can be monotone black, brown, patterned or iridescent. They are large and ovoid in shape, have six rather sturdy legs and three distinct parts- the small hemispheric head which extends to the thorax and the large wings joined at their centre by a small, reverse semicircle. Attached to the head are two short, thick antennae. The dimensions of the beetle have been replicated exactly in the design of the bracelet, with the details of the two forward-looking eyes and lines of the body being also accurate. The wings are delineated accurately yet without the addition of the joining semicircle. The eyes and mouth have been depicted on the bracelet without the addition of the antennae. The muscular front legs are also accurately crafted, but the middle and back legs are more simplified. Owing to the emphasis on the beetle in the design of the bracelet, it could be suggested that the bracelet had a protective as well as aesthetic role, perhaps having a use in reproduction such as a cultic charm bracelet.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Teeter, E. (2002) “Animals in Egyptian religion” in History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East , Collins, Billie Jean , 2002 , pp.335-360
  2. Kritsky, G.; Cherry, R. (2000) “Insects in Egyptian mythology” in Insect Mythology , Kritsky, Gene; Cherry, Ron , 2000 , pp.49-63
  3. Potts, T. (1990) “Egyptian jewellery” in Civilization: Ancient Treasures from the British Museum, Potts, Timothy, 1990, Australian National Gallery, pp.76-79


[1] Teeter, E. (2002) “Animals in Egyptian religion” in History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East , Collins, Billie Jean , 2002 , p.337

[2] Ibid. p.343

[3] Ibid. p.346

[4] Kritsky, G.; Cherry, R. (2000) “Insects in Egyptian mythology” in Insect Mythology , Kritsky, Gene; Cherry, Ron , 2000 , p.52

[5] Ibid. p.49

[6] Potts, T. (1990) “Egyptian jewellery” in Civilization: Ancient Treasures from the British Museum, Potts, Tim. 1990, p.76

[7] Ibid. p.78

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