Scarab, Thutmosis III - 910.85.233_2


Scarab, Thutmosis III

Medium:Glazed steatite
Geography: Egypt
Date: 664-332 BC
Period: 26th-30th Dynasty, Late Period
1.5 x 1 x 0.7 cm
Object number: 910.85.233
Not on view

The scarab beetle held a special place in Ancient Egyptian religious iconography. Hundreds of thousands of scarab amulets were made over the course of Egyptian civilization, from the First Intermediate Period to Greco-Roman times.

This scarab is beautifully carved, with great attention to the detail of the insect’s wing covers, legs and head.  On the bottom is carved ‘Menkheperre,’ the throne name of the 18th Dynasty king, Thutmosis III.  It is not, however, spelled quite as the name was during that king’s lifetime, and so it appears to have been carved in later years, using the name of the great king as a charm. It may have been made for a soldier to inspire and protect him.

Careful observers of the natural world, the Egyptians noticed that a particular dung beetle rolled a ball of animal excrement along the ground, sometimes for considerable distances, and into an underground storage. The ancient people admired the beetles’ tenacity and strength in amassing and moving the dung, which they did head down, pushing the ball with their hind legs. They associated the journey of the scarab and its ball of dung with the movement of the sun across the sky, propelled, perhaps, by a divine beetle. In religious iconography the morning form of the sun god was the dung-beetle, Khepri. whose name carries meanings of transformation, coming into being, and change.

Scarab beetles also formed and stored a pear-shaped ball of sheep dung, in which they laid their eggs. The Ancient Egyptians were struck by the emergence of new life from decay, which seemed spontaneous generation, new life, and resurrection. This suggested the emergence of the soul from burial and decay. The wrapped appearance of pupae would have reminded them of mummified bodies.

Altogether, the scarab became a powerful symbol of renewal.  Those who could afford it had large scarabs, often engraved with a prayer known as Chapter 30B of the Book of the Dead placed over their hearts after death. Many scarabs have names carved on their backs; some were used as seals, others as lucky charms with the names of long dead kings.

This fine scarab is made of glazed steatite, a popular material for the amulet.  There are carvings on the back, but they cannot be studied at present due to the nature of the case in which this artifact is kept. It is pierced for suspension and could have been tied to a finger or mounted as a ring, worn in a necklace, or sewn into the wrappings of the dead.

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