4. The Scarab “Symbol of Transformation”
The Scarab symbol was one of the most well-known symbols of ancient Egypt during the first intermediate period (2181-2040 BCE) until the rise of Christianity. This ancient Egyptian symbol is seen in Egyptian art and iconography which is a species of the dung beetle. The shape of the scarab amulet came from the act of rolling the dung into a ball and laying its eggs in it and the dung served as food for the young when they hatched. Ancient Egyptians saw life coming from nothing which represented transformation, the recreation of life, and resurrection. The scarab was identified with the God Khepri who was more like Ra’s assistant who rolls the ball of the sun across the sky. The scarab hieroglyph letter refers to the ideas of existence, transformation, growth, effectiveness, and divine manifestation which explain why the symbol was used in describing the titles of officials, governmental places, and creating official royal seals. The most common scarab amulets were the hardstone made from amethyst, green jasper, and carnelian. scarab, Latin scarabaeus, in ancient Egyptian religion, important symbol in the form of the dung beetle (Scarabaeus sacer), which lays its eggs in dung balls fashioned through rolling. This beetle was associated with the divine manifestation of the early morning sun, Khepri, whose name was written with the scarab hieroglyph and who was believed to roll the disk of the morning sun over the eastern horizon at daybreak. Since the scarab hieroglyph, Kheper, refers variously to the ideas of existence, manifestation, development, growth, and effectiveness, the beetle itself was a favourite form used for amulets in all periods of Egyptian history.
Scarabs of various materials, glazed steatite being most common, form an important class of Egyptian antiquities. Such objects usually have the bases inscribed or decorated with designs and are simultaneously amulets and seals. Though they first appeared in the late Old Kingdom (c. 2575–c. 2130 BCE), when they evolved from the so-called button seals, scarabs remained rare until Middle Kingdom times (1938–c. 1630 BCE), when they were fashioned in great numbers. Some were used simply as ornaments, while others were purely amuletic in purpose, as the large basalt “heart scarabs” of the New Kingdom (1539–1075 BCE) and later times, which were placed in the bandages of mummies and were symbolically identified with the heart of the deceased. A winged scarab might also be placed on the breast of the mummy, and later a number of other scarabs were placed about the body.
Commemorative marriage scarab for Queen Tiye from Amenhotep III. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Scarabs were typically carved or molded in the form of a scarab beetle (usually identified as Scarabaeus sacer) with varying degrees of naturalism but usually at least indicating the head, wing case and legs but with a flat base. The base was usually inscribed with designs or hieroglyphs to form an impression seal. They were usually drilled from end to end to allow them to be strung on a thread or incorporated into a swivel ring. The common length for standard scarabs is between 6 mm and 40 mm and most are between 10 mm and 20 mm. Larger scarabs were made from time to time for particular purposes, such as the commemorative scarabs of Amenhotep. Scarabs were generally either carved from stone, or molded from Egyptian faience, a type of Ancient Egyptian sintered-quartz ceramic. Once carved, they would typically be glazed blue or green and then fired. The most common stone used for scarabs was a form of steatite, a soft stone that becomes hard when fired (forming enstatite). In contrast, hardstone Scarabs most commonly were composed of green jasper, amethyst and carnelian.