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The Significance of Scarabs

After a brief hiatus, Thutmose Tuesday is back! This week, I figured we'd discuss one of the most iconic and recognizable ancient Egyptian symbols, the scarab. Associated with the beetle-headed god Khepri (the embodiment of Ra as the rising sun), beginning in the Middle Kingdom scarab amulets became popular symbols of life and rebirth. Because of their environment, the Egyptians often observed scarab beetles rolling balls of dung across the desert, which they likened to the Khepri rolling the orb of the sun across the sky each day.

Often, scarab amulets were very small trinkets, usually worked into ornamental jewelry or used as seal rings. Many of these amulets would be made out of faience and would be decorated with the throne names and royal titles of the Pharaoh (and, in some cases, the names and titles of his queens and other family members). Larger inscribed "Heart Scarabs" also became popular during the New Kingdom, and were included in the array of amulets placed inside a mummy's wrapping. Egyptian emissaries would bring scarabs bearing the names of their kings to foreign lands on diplomatic missions, and sometimes special scarabs were commissioned to commemorate important political events. Because of this, Egyptians scarabs (and other amulets imitating the scarab style), have been found all throughout the Near East & Mediterranean areas. For instance, last spring a 12-year old girl volunteering with an archaeological project uncovered a scarab of Pharaoh Thutmose III in Jerusalem! In fact, hundreds of Thutmose's scarabs have been found throughout Egypt, some having been manufactured centuries after his death as part of the king's mortuary cult.

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