The Ancient Egyptians observed the scarab beetle as it rolled a bit of dung into a ball. The beetle's mission reminded them of Ra, their sun god, who they believed rolled the sun across the sky each day. Because of the scarab beetle's association with creation and renewal, ancient Egyptians revered the insect and carved figures of scarabs into their jewellery.
The image of the scarab is translated from hieroglyphs to mean "to become" or "to transform." Because the scarab was connected in the ancient Egyptians' minds with regeneration, scarab jewellery was often buried with the dead. The Pharaoh Tutankhamen was buried with a heart scarab -- a protective amulet, usually of green stone, placed over the heart or on the chest of the deceased. Green was the symbolic colour of rebirth to the Egyptians, and the flat base of the scarab could be inscribed with the name of a pharaoh or god to safeguard the wearer in the afterlife.
Both rich and poor viewed the scarab as a good luck charm. Scarab beetles were mass produced by 1850BC and decorated pendants, rings, amulets and bracelets. They were carved from amethyst, carnelian, lapis lazuli and other gemstones, as well as faience, which is a combination of crushed quartz, lime and alkali.
According to Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley, bracelets were popular with women of all social classes from the pre-Dynastic period (approximately 3100 B.C.) onward, and women would often wear decorated wrist bracelets with slightly thicker matching ankle bracelets. Workshops attached to the palace crafted jewelled pieces for the pharaoh and his family while commoners purchased costume jewellery at the village market. Men, women and children wore white garments, which provided a plain background to bright jewellery.
Commemorative scarabs played a role in celebrating the achievements of Egypt's rulers. The underside of the scarab might be inscribed to celebrate a royal marriage or the success of a pharaoh's hunting expedition. The jewellery acted as a type of propaganda for Egypt's elite class and conferred status on the wearer.
Scarab jewellery maintained an important role in funerary ritual among the ancient Egyptians, but the stones were popular also as good luck charms with the living. The jewellery reflects the beauty of early craftsmanship, and scarab artefacts remain, keeping alive the memory of a mysterious and fascinating culture.
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