The Ancient Egyptians observed the scarab beetle as it rolled a bit of dung into a ball. The beetle’s mission reminded them of Ra, their sun god, who they believed rolled the sun across the sky each day. Because of the scarab beetle’s association with creation and renewal, ancient Egyptians revered the insect and carved figures of scarabs into their jewelry.
The image of the scarab is translated from hieroglyphs to mean “to become” or “to transform.” Because the scarab was connected in the ancient Egyptians’ minds with regeneration, scarab jewelry was often buried with the dead. The Pharaoh Tutankhamen was buried with a heart scarab — a protective amulet, usually of green stone, placed over the heart or on the chest of the deceased. Green was the symbolic color of rebirth to the Egyptians, and the flat base of the scarab could be inscribed with the name of a pharaoh or god to safeguard the wearer in the afterlife.
Both rich and poor viewed the scarab as a good luck charm. Scarab beetles were mass produced by 1850 BC and decorated pendants, rings, amulets and bracelets. They were carved from amethyst, carnelian, lapis lazuli and other gemstones, as well as faience, which is a combination of crushed quartz, lime and alkali.
According to Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley, bracelets were popular with women of all social classes from the pre-Dynastic period (approximately 3100 B.C.) onward, and women would often wear decorated wrist bracelets with slightly thicker matching ankle bracelets. Workshops attached to the palace crafted jeweled pieces for the pharaoh and his family while commoners purchased costume jewelry at the village market. Men, women and children wore white garments, which provided a plain background to bright jewelry.
Commemorative scarabs played a role in celebrating the achievements of Egypt’s rulers. The underside of the scarab might be inscribed to celebrate a royal marriage or the success of a pharaoh’s hunting expedition. The jewelry acted as a type of propaganda for Egypt’s elite class and conferred status on the wearer.
Scarab jewelry maintained an important role in funerary ritual among the ancient Egyptians, but the stones were popular also as good luck charms with the living. The jewelry reflects the beauty of early craftsmanship, and scarab artifacts remain, keeping alive the memory of a mysterious and fascinating culture.
References and ResourcesUCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology: Scarab; Kathlyn M. Cooney
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Two Royal-Name Scarabs of King Amenemhat II from Dahsur; Daphna Ben-Tor
"Daughters of Isis"; Joyce Tyldesley; 1994
King Tut: Egyptian Scarab Beetle