Necklace of Gold flies
Gold and carnelian necklace composed of 29 hollow gold flies alternating with spherical carnelian beads and tubular gold foil beads. Fly ornament necklaces, occasionally presented to courageous soldiers, may have been worn as talismans to ward off insects.
Small fly amulets have been found in Egypt made from gold, silver, bone, lapis lazuli, faience, carnelian, and amethyst. Wearing a fly amulet was probably believed to protect the wearer from insect bites or ward off pesky flying creatures through apotropaic magic.
Even the humble fly (called aff in Egyptian) was worn as a homopoeic amulet. Fly amulets were distinctly v-shaped, emphasizing the head and wings of the insect. They varied in size but most were 2cm or smaller and could be strung on a single necklace or bracelet, often interspaced by beads.
The fly symbol was used at the end of the ancient Egyptian word for the insect itself, and to mean ‘to fly’. Flies were also worn as protective amulets as well as symbolizing persistence: soldiers were awarded golden flies by the king as reward for heroic efforts in battle.
The fly whisks that Egyptian artists depicted in the hands of kings and high officials are potent reminders of how irksome the hosts of flies were in ancient Egypt.
The ancient Egyptians, however, seemed to have held flies in high esteem, presumably because of this insect’s powers of fast reaction and indomitable, insistent presence.
New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1550-1292 BC. Length (without modern chain) 10 1/2 in. (26.7cm) Flies 1.1 to 1.7 cm. Now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 1980.167