Ancient Egyptian Scarab Ring
“This brilliant blue scarab is carved out of lapis lazuli. Scarabs first become incorporated into finger rings in the Middle Kingdom (1980-1630 BC).” (Jennifer Wegner, label text, “Sacred Adornment: Jewelry as Belief in Ancient Egypt”)
The Egyptians used amulets shaped like scarab beetles as seals, piercing the scarab longitudinally to allow it to be strung or incorporated into a ring. The upper side of a scarab seal resembles a beetle, while the flat underside bears incised decoration. Sometimes these designs are purely decorative, featuring spiral designs or protective images.
At other times the bottom of the scarab contains the name and titles of its owner, and would have functioned like a signet ring. In this way the scarab served two purposes: a magical association with rebirth and, when used to seal things, an administrative function marking ownership.
The Egyptians were keen observers of nature and witnessed dung beetles (Scarabeus sacer) pushing balls of dung across the sand. This led to the belief that it was a dung beetle that rolled the sun-disk across the sky. They also observed young beetles hatching from these balls, and interpreted the scarab as a symbol of rebirth and regeneration. There are a number of different ways that the Egyptians incorporated scarabs into their adornment. Certain types of scarabs were used by the living, and other types were more funerary in nature.
Funerary scarabs come in a few different forms. One type is a small amulet about the same size as those used as a seal. Larger scarabs with outstretched wings are another funerary form; amulets of this type were attached to the wrappings of mummies. Finally, the best-known of the funerary scarabs is the heart scarab. This is a large-scale scarab whose lower surface is flat and contains a spell from a funerary text, The Book of the Dead. This spell offers words of magical protection for the heart of the deceased when it was weighed on a scale during the final judgment.
Jewelry was an important part of daily life for the ancient Egyptians. Adorning the deceased and equipping them with jewelry for the afterlife was equally important. The jewelry in this exhibition is attractive and may have indicated the rank or wealth of its owners. However, most of these pieces also had protective and religious functions. The beautiful jewelry in this exhibition provides excellent examples of the Egyptians’ interest in sacred adornment for this life and the beyond.
Jennifer Houser Wegner, PhD
Associate Curator, Egyptian Section
Penn Museum, University of Pennsylvania
Now in the Glencairn Museum, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. 05.JW.180 05.JW.180