Egyptian Scarab Jewelry – Symbolism and History
The scarab beetle has been a symbolic motif in Egyptian jewelry for thousands of years. The scarab is a symbol of regeneration and rebirth, thus scarab jewelry was thought to bring protection, luck and vitality to the wearer. Egyptian soldiers were given scarabs before going into battle. Women were given scarabs for fertility. Scarab beads and designs were commonly fashioned into bracelets, pendants and rings.
Scarab jewelry was made from a wide range of stones and materials. Archeologists have found examples of scarab beads and artifacts made from clay, soapstone, green basalt, glass, bone, precious metals, wood, semi-precious gemstones and many other types of stone. The colors of scarabs were symbolic so plain stone was often glazed or enameled in bright colors. The most common colors found in enameled scarab jewelry were green (symbolizing new life), blue (for the sky and the River Nile), and red (for the sun). In addition to enamels, brightly coloured semi-precious gemstones were used in scarab jewelry making including lapis lazuli, amethyst, carnelian, agate, jasper, onyx and turquoise. Today, scarab jewelry is still made from gemstones, enameled materials, and precious metals.
The symbolism in scarab jewelry derives primarily from its association with the Egyptian god of the rising sun, Khepri. One type of scarab, the “Sacred Scarab” or dung beetle, lays its eggs in a ball of dung which it rolls along the ground and finally into a hole where the eggs hatch and new beetles emerge from. This scarab was seen as the earthly representation of Khepri in that it was believed that this god rolled the sun across the sky each day, thus renewing life. The scarab is also associated with astrology and may have preceded the crab as the symbol we know as Cancer.
Scarabs were also used in ancient Egypt for protection in the afterlife. Large “heart scarabs” with hieroglyphic inscriptions on the underside, were placed across the chest of the deceased in the tomb. They were also found in place of the heart in mummified bodies. These heart scarabs were believed to protect the dead in the final judgment. The most famous of these was a chest or “pectoral” scarab found in Thebes in the tomb of King Tutankhamen. Today, heart scarabs are valued for ornamental purposes, and many still bear hieroglyphs and symbolic carvings on the underside.
Since Egyptian history and art are still studied today, the fascination with the scarab continues. Scarab jewelry and decor are still made in Egypt and by craftsmen around the world.