Amulet, sow - ROM2018_16556_3


Amulet, sow

Geography: Egypt
Date: c. 5300-3000 BC
Period: Predynastic Period
3.5 × 4.1 × 0.9 cm
Object number: 909.80.502
On view
Gallery Location:Galleries of Africa: Egypt

This elegant ivory amulet depicts a sow with her piglet.  She represents the sky goddess, Nut. This goddess is usually shown in art as a beautiful woman whose body arches high over the earth, from where her toes touch the eastern horizon, to the west, where her fingers stretch to the ground and her face hangs low over the land. She swallows the sun, her son Re, every night, and gives birth to him every morning. The ancient people had observed that a sow will swallow her own farrow if she cannot produce enough milk; this apparently cruel and un-motherly behaviour mirrored that of the sky.  Sows, however, were also renowned in ancient times, as now, for their fecundity. Thus the animal could represent life, death and renewal.

The Egyptians distinguished sow from boar in their mythology, with the male of the species being considered ill-tempered, gluttonous, violent, and destructive. The boar was often associated with the turbulent desert god, Seth or Sutekh. The sow, on the other hand, could provide an image of Nut or Taweret, or even the goddess Mut.

Although it is commonly written that the Ancient Egyptians did not eat pork, they did in fact raise pigs and eat them.  Perhaps due to the animal’s omnivorous habits, which include eating offal and excrement, pigs seem to have been avoided as sacrificial animals or as offerings to the dead.  Classical sources do report yearly sacrifices of pigs to 'the moon.'  The deified Ptolemaic queen, Arsinoe, was also treated to roast pig at her festival.

Since this amulet lacks any hole for suspension, its use in life would have been limited.  Perhaps it was placed within the wrappings of the dead.

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