Posts Tagged With: canopic chest

Rabbit’s Feet, Four Leaf Clovers…Dung Beetles? The History of the Egyptian Scarab

Of all the ancient Egyptian “treasures” I have in my collection, the one that is most precious to me is a scarab necklace given to me by my parents. It has become my good luck charm, worn to almost every interview, class presentation, and stressful event I can remember; but is this how the ancient Egyptians would have used the scarab amulet? Am I completely off-base?

Scarabs are one of the most revered zoomorphic symbols in the ancient Egyptian religion, although it is highly unlikely that you would uncover a horde of scarabs in a tomb like our friends in The Mummy:

courtesy of universal studios

courtesy of universal studios

The scarab served as the ancient Egyptian version of the Christian Cross; a symbol of protection and the journey of rebirth.  It is often associated with the sun god, Re, but this association arose from the Egyptians’ misunderstanding of the scarab’s life cycle. As described by the Met Museum,

An adult beetle lays its eggs inside a ball of dung, which is then buried underground. When the young beetles hatch, the only portion of this process easily visible to an observer is the beetle emerging fully developed from a dung ball, a seemingly magical event. Thus, the Egyptian word for scarab translates as “to come into being.”  The scarab forms food balls out of fresh dung using its back legs to push the oversized spheres along the ground toward its burrow. The Egyptians equated this process with the sun’s daily cycle across the sky, believing that a giant scarab moved the sun from the eastern horizon to the west each day, making the amulet a potent symbol of rebirth.*

*unmentioned in the article, the Egyptian word for scarab is hprr, which inspires the name of the god Khepri, the god of creation. The ‘Khepri name’ is also one of the titles of the pharaoh (but more on that later!).

This association with rebirth is illustrated through the collection of scarab iconography found during various excavations.  In one iteration, scarabs are a cheap and common charm, which ancient Egyptians could easily afford and would often wear each day, possibly strung on a cord as a necklace. This form of the scarab provided protective powers that warded off evil and brought blessings to the wearer. A second iteration of the scarab is the seal; these seals bore the name of the pharaoh, royal officials, or religious figures and functioned much like a Christian medal or scapular of a saint or holy prayer or image, providing protection and guidance through this world and potentially the next. The most important iteration of the scarab in the funerary tradition, where scarabs were wrapped between the layers of the mummy cloth and specifically set over the heart to help provide safe journey and offer guidance as the soul of the deceased traveled into the next life.

Knowing the ancient Egyptians’ obsession with death and the afterlife, it is clear that the scarab held immense symbolic power for all Egyptians, and was a necessary entity to their success in both this life and the next.  Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’ve got to find my necklace before I start my Masters Thesis…

necklace

Works Cited:

http://wcma.williams.edu/blog/amulets/

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/10.130.910_27.3.206

http://museum.unl.edu/research/entomology/Egyptian_Sacred_Scarab/egs-text.htm

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/e/egyptian_scarabs.aspx

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Recycled Tomb Rewrites History

One of the questions I often hear immediately after I tell someone I want to be an Egyptologist (other than “What does that even mean?”) is always, “Didn’t we find everything already?”

This month, the Penn Museum team answered that question loud and clear.

Image

(courtesy of Penn Museum)

An archaeological team working at Abydos, a site in southern Egypt, have discovered the tomb of a previously undiscovered ruler: Pharaoh Woseribre Senebkay—and in turn have discovered the first material proof of a unknown Abydos dynasty ca. 1650-1600 BCE.

The excavation of this tomb began in the summer of 2013, when Dr. Josef Wegner, The Egyptian Section Associate Curator of the Penn Museum, led the Penn Museum team in the discovery of a 60-ton royal sarcophagus chamber at South Abydos (depicted above). The summer ended with little information on the sarcophagus—no known owner and only a possible dating to the late Middle Kingdom.

Then, during just the last few weeks of excavations, more and more information was discovered concerning this mysterious chamber. It is now known that the chamber is derived from a royal tomb built originally for Pharaoh Sobekhotep in the 13th Dynasty, but re-used for the previously unknown Pharoah Senebkay in Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period. Senebkay’s tomb dates from around 1650 BCE and is composed of four chambers (including a decorated limestone burial chamber). The tomb has multiple texts providing the king’s titulary.

As is the case for many Egyptian tombs, tomb robbers had most certainly hit the tomb of Senebkay. The king’s body was originally mummified, but his remains were torn apart during the assumed violent incursion that also likely resulted in the loss of the pharaoh’s tomb equipment. However, archaeologists were able to recover remains of the body (and reconstruct it—minus a jaw bone), coffin, funerary masks, and even the canopic chest. The canopic chest of Senebkay was made of cedar wood that had been reused from the nearby tomb of Sobekhotep I and still bore Sobekhotep’s name, covered by gilding. Along with the reused sarcophagus, the canopic chest provides historical evidence for the suggestion of limited resources during the economic situation in the Second Intermediate Period.

Image

(courtesy of discovery.com)

Yet the most important aspect of this discovery is best expressed by the Co-Founder/Owner of Past Preservers (and my former boss!) Nigel Hetherington, a British archaeologist in Egypt.

“There was a gap in the chronology for this period, so people presumed that these pharaohs existed but they had not found the graves. The history books will now be rewritten because of what [these archaeologists] have discovered.”

The excavation of this tomb has further proven that the tomb is just one of many that may be hidden in this area. Lead archaeologist Joseph Wegner predicts that around 20 previously unknown pharaohs may be buried near Senebkay’s tomb.

Who knows what the future holds for the Acropolis at Abydos and what wonderful discoveries may be made in the future? One thing that is certain, however, is that there will always be more to discover about the Ancient Egyptians.

Sources:

http://news.discovery.com/history/ancient-egypt/mystery-pharaoh-found-in-egypt-140116.htm

http://www.penn.museum/press-releases/1032-pharaoh-senebkay-discovery-josef-wegner.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/10592988/Egyptian-pharaoh-unearthed-after-3600-years.html

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