From the earliest times onwards jewellery was worn by men and women in life and death. They wore finger-rings, bracelets, anklets, collars, necklaces, and earrings. Even the poorest burials had a string of beads or two. The gods, too, had their jewellery.
In the case of the ancient Egyptian the most compelling reason to wear ornaments was as protection against evil forces and therefore charms or amulets were worn for this specific purpose. Not just the shape of the amulet, or material it was made of played a role, but also the colour. Popular colours were red, which symbolised the red of life-blood, green to celebrate the regeneration of life through the life cycles of plants, and the blue of water and the sky. Gold especially, was the colour of the gods.
These amulets had another role to fulfil. They also played a part as funerary adornment and certain funerary amulets were made for putting on the wrapped mummy to ward off evil and to protect the body against destruction. Groups of the Four Sons of Horus, protectors of the mummified internal organs, only came in use in the Third Intermediate Period.
The amulet in the shape of a scarab is perhaps the best known of all the amulets. It first appeared in the First Intermediate Period and was manufactured until the Graeco-Roman Period. It was also made in Syria and Palestine. Every material known to the Egyptians was used to make scarabs.
The industrious scarab or dung beetle, pushing a very large ball of dung to his underground home, fascinated the Egyptians. They imagined a huge black beetle pushing the sun-disc across the sky every day in the same manner. Not understanding the life cycle of the scarab beetle, the ancient Egyptians thought that the small beetles hatched from the same ball of dung. Therefore, the beetle became synonymous with spontaneous regeneration and resurrection. The new-born sun was called Khepri, and this god was portrayed with the body of a man and the head was replaced with a complete beetle.
Various amulets within the Iziko collection. (c) Iziko Photo Archives.
Amulets of the Djec pillar (middle) a pillar-like symbol in hieroglyphics representing stability, the Four Sons of Horus (sides) and the Winged Scarab (lower).
String of glass and faience beads. (c) Iziko Photo Archives.