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A fine ancient Egyptian carved scarab beetle with an inscription to the base.

In ancient Egypt, scarabs (dung beetles) represented the rising sun and eternal existence. This is because the insect pushes a ball of dung around - and the Egyptians thought the sun was propelled around the earth in the same way, by a giant beetle.

Scarabs were generally either carved from stone or moulded from Egyptian faience or clay. The most common stone used for scarabs was a form of steatite, a soft stone which becomes hard when fired. Scarabs first appeared in the late Old Kingdom (c. 2575-c. 2130 BCE) when they evolved from so-called button seals.

Many thousands of scarabs have been found, making them one of the most popular ancient Egyptian artefacts for sale to collectors. One of the reasons for the quantity and variety of ancient scarabs is because they were used for different purposes.

The first was that they were worn as amulets. Like most other amulets, they were to give powers of protection or renewal for the wearer.

The next use was as seals carrying the name of the official. Royal scarabs were the most common, with the name of the pharaoh carved into the back. But scarabs with royal names were not only used as seals, or created for the pharaoh in particular. Some ancient Egyptians liked to have their own scarabs with the name of a king or (less commonly) queen that they admired or cherished.

Another were memorial, or commemorative, scarabs which would be carved to mark important events such as diplomatic ties, hunting expeditions, the constructions of sites and the lineages of a pharaoh's consorts. These types of scarabs are most notable from the reign of Amenhotep III.

Finally, there are the funerary scarabs, the most famous of which are the heart scarabs. Heart scarabs had certain parts of the Book of the Dead written on them and were placed over the heart of the deceased. This would ensure that the heart would not give away the deceased's secrets during final judgment by Osiris that could be held against him/her. Heart scarabs were usually made of green stone.

Condition: A couple of minor chips. Wear commensurate with age.

Dimensions: 21mm long x 14mm wide

Provenance: From the collection of Dr. Fred W. Campell Brown, formed during WW1 when he was in Cairo, thence by descent. Purchased at UK auction.


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