Lungs and Windpipe Amulet

The lungs and windpipe or sema amulet was often placed on a mummy‘s chest in order to give it life in the underworld. As such, the shape of this sign frequently appears in Egyptian art in scenes of the king uniting the two lands of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The Sema or Sma hieroglyph, used in the words “unification,” “to unite,” and their derivatives, represents an animal’s lungs and windpipe. It is often described as a pair of lungs attached to a windpipe, genitalia, and sometimes both simultaneously.

Lungs and Windpipe Sema Amulet. Brooklyn Museum. 16.580.60
Lungs and Windpipe Sema Amulet. Brooklyn Museum. 16.580.60

The ancient Egyptians did create various amulets and charms with specific symbolic meanings, often related to protection, fertility, or religious beliefs. Many varieties of amulets survive, including figures of deities, parts of the human (or divine) body, animals, plants, and objects of daily life.

As an amulet, the sema hieroglyph ensured a unified corpse, integral to one’s survival in the afterlife. The customary choice of dark stone for this amulet refers to the darkness of the night sky and the fertile silt of the Nile’s inundation (or annual flooding)—the sources of the daily rebirth of the sun and the yearly regeneration of nature.

The Sema Tawy, also known as “The Unification of the Two Lands,” was a significant concept in ancient Egyptian mythology and political ideology. It represented the unification of Upper Egypt (the southern region) and Lower Egypt (the northern region) into a single kingdom.

Dark brown stone ‘sm3’ or sma sign, as amulet. Back flat and plain. Front surface incised at base only. Dull finish. Blind eyelet at top. Coarse work. In Egyptian hieroglyphs, the hieroglyph is used for the phonetic value of sma, (a triliteral) with meanings of to join together, to unite with.

Late Period, 26th Dynasty to 30th Dynasty, ca. 664-332 BC. Made of obsidian. Dimensions: 1 1/4 × 9/16 × 3/16 in. (3.1 × 1.4 × 0.5 cm). Now in the Brooklyn Museum. 16.580.60