My ARCHAEO-Crush for September is not a specific artefact, but an ancient Egyptian symbol that has transcended time and can be found as a decorative motif in other cultures and historical periods.


Civilisation: Ancient Egypt

various periods

ARCHAEO-Crush: In ancient Egypt, the scarab (Scarabaeus sacer) is a symbol of resurrection associated with the rising sun, appearing on the eastern horizon after dying in the West the previous evening. The winged scarab was thus a popular funerary amulet and motif associated with the deceased and his funerary goods. At the NCMA, we find a winged scarab drawn on top of the head of Amunred’s coffin (Late Period) as well as incised in the gilded pectoral of Golden Boy (Ptolemaic Period). In a recent post, I also mentioned the short term loan of a faience amulet of a winged scarab temporary exhibited in our permanent galleries. This type of amulet could be sewn to a bead net shroud that covered the mummified body of the deceased, helping them reach the afterlife and achieve immortality.
The Egyptians’ observation of the natural world was the impetus for the association between the dung beetle and the sun. They had noticed that these beetles pushed around dung balls that contained their eggs and imagined an invisible scarab similarly pushing the fiery ball of the sun across the sky–the avatar of the sun god Khepri. The fact that the scarab babies emerged from the dung ball (from which they had fed as larvae) only reinforced the connection with resurrection, new life emerging from the decay of death.
The scarab beetle is one of the Egyptian symbols that has transcended time and has become a decorative motif in subsequent historical periods and different cultures.  In more recent times, we find it beautifully incorporated in decorative art and jewellery.

Bucket list status: Well, the bucket list status isn’t quite applicable in this Beetlemania post, but I do have a new favourite dung beetle: the wonderful  winged scarab on the front of the 1936 Stout Scarab, an Art Deco automobile in the Rolling Sculpture: Art Deco Cars from the 1930s and ’40s presented at the NCMA from October 1 to January 15, 2017 (which I curated with guest curator and automobile expert Ken Gross). Although a bit odd-looking, the car is absolutely fascinating! Its interior is spacious and some of the seats can be reconfigured for various activities. The perfect car for an Egyptologist who wants to read, cogitate, nap, work, meet with colleagues or dine (it includes a table and a long couch-like seat)!

Additional information: The winged scarab at the front of the car is undoubted inspired by the fresh new wave of Egyptomania that swept the world during the Art Deco period resulting from the discovery of Tutankhamun’Ts tomb in 1922. This is the perfect finishing touch for a car whose monocoque body and chassis combination  resembles the exoskeleton of a bug.

An Open Letter to Ancient People

Found this post very amusing. It’s  An Open Letter to Ancient People from Conservator Suzanne Davis at the Kelsey. Love it! There are many times when archaeologists, conservators and other scholars would like to speak to ancient people…

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation Dear Ancient People, I am writing this letter in response to my recent work on your textiles for the upcoming Kelsey Museum exhibit Less Than Perfect. I am writing this letter because I love you. I do. Please believe that. Your textiles are lovely. Super beautiful. But they are […]

via An Open Letter to Ancient People — Kelsey Museum

A scarab showed up at the museum…

A winged scarab showed up at the Museum on Monday afternoon… the cute little faience thing is a short-term loan related to the upcoming exhibition Rolling Sculpture: Art Deco Cars from the 1930s and ’40s.   As you can guess from the title, the show is about vintage automobiles and you might wonder how on earth that is connected to Egyptology.

Unbelievable as though it may seem, there is a connection about the cars and Egyptology.  One of the automobiles is a 1936 Stout Scarab that features on its hood a spectacular Egyptian winged scarab. Imagine that, the car is actually painted turquoise, so it even looks like a faience scarab! (I’ll talk more about this car in a later post.) As the NCMA does not have a collection of decorative arts (from any period) and none of the artists represented in our modern art section did not work in the art deco style, the only connection between the exhibition and the permanent collection is the Egyptian scarab.  (Who knew?!)  We have two scarabs represented on two artefacts in the Egyptian collection–one painted on the top of head of Amunred’s coffin, the other carved in the pectoral of Golden Boy’s gilded cartonnage.  I want to show a scarab amulet so visitors could see the scarab as an object in and of itself, not just a decorative motif, so I borrowed one for a few months.(It’s been up for just a few days and security guards have told me that people are very excited about it and find the connection with the car show very amusing!)  I’ll talk more about scarabs later… and I’ll add illustrations as well.

I’d like to thanks Nicole B. for sharing her photo of a faience bead net that incorporates a winged scarab amulet. (It’s the photo on the left on the label.)  This helps understand what these scarab amulets were used for. Also, a big thank you to the generous lender for sending his wonderful little scarab on a trip to the museum.

Studying Etruscan art…

One of the many projects and tasks that occupied me last week was the ongoing research on the NCMA’s classical collection.  This time around, it was the Etruscan objects and other early Italic material that was under study.

Professor Nancy de Grummond was in town for the examination.  It was an intensive two-day study, but it was great fun to learn from her.  She is a wonderful wealth of information about all things pre-Roman.

Venus of Meroe

My ARCHAEO-crush for the summer–June, July and August (blame this on the fact that my schedule has been unbelievably busy)–is a wonderful Sudanese Venus.


Type: artefact (sculpture)
Civilisation: Ancient Sudan, Kingdom of Kush, Meroitic Period
Date: 2nd-3rd century
ARCHAEO-Crush: The Venus of Meroe is called Venus because of  because she was found in the so-called ‘royal baths’ at Meroe and the position of her body that reminds us of Hellenistic and Roman statues of Venus… but not so much because of her proportions. Indeed, the Meroitic Venus is not as svelte as those from the ancient Mediterranean with their mathematically calculated proportions. This lovely Venus represents the Meroitic ideals of beauty normally found in Meroitic art, with ample forms synonymous with fertility and wealth.
Also, unlike Greece or Italy, there is no marble in Sudan. This statue is made of sandstone covered with painted stucco to make it smoother and lustrous in appearance, perhaps to resemble painted marble.  (Sandstone is rather rough and granular.)
It is interesting that the Kingdom of Kush, which was never controlled by the Romans, held some interest in Hellenistic and Roman art.  Except for a few skirmishes when Egypt became part of the Empire and the Romans got their butts kicked by a Meroitic queen (but they later signed a peace treaty), Kush had little to do with Rome.  Yet we find we find in Sudan some objects influenced by or from the ancient Mediterranean… and these are often luxury goods.
Bucket list status: I have seen this charming Venus a number of times when visiting the Staatliche Museum Ägyptischer Kunst in Munich.  She is wonderfully displayed in the  Nubia gallery.
Additional information: The statue was discovered along with others during John Garstang’s 1912-13 excavation season. Take a look at the photos in this article and near the bottom, you’ll find an image of Garstang and his wife Marie at the bottom of the bassin of the baths, surrounded by sculptures and several fragments that once stood on the steps surrounding it Garstang is actually holding the Venus in his arms.

Egyptologist on Video

The interview with Valonda, who explored with me the Egyptian Collection at the North Carolina Museum of Art for WNCN’s “My Carolina Talk” a couple of weeks ago, aired this morning.

Source: The Egyptian Collection At The North Carolina Museum Of Art

William the Hippo

My ARCHAEO-Crush of the month of May is the non-official mascot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Type: sculpture (faience statuette)
Civilisation: Ancient Egypt
Date: Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, reigns of Senwosret I to Senwosret II, circa 1961–1878 B.C.E.

ARCHAEO-Crush: This little statuette is absolutely adorable! A small faience hippopotamus with aquatic plants drawn on its blue body.  Little William from the Metropolitan Museum (the name was given him in 1931 by Captain H. M. Raleigh) was discovered at Meir in  a shaft associated with the funerary chapel of the steward Senbi II’s tomb. The reason for its presence  in the tomb is religious and magical, because, let’s not forget, that hippos are extremely dangerous. (One of the three most terrifying animals in ancient Egypt, the other two being the crocodile and the lion). The animal was a menace to any small craft on the Nile and could wreak havoc in the fields.
The small faience hippo represented the forces of nature that could be harmful to the deceased in the Afterlife, forces that could be controlled or appeased: William the hippo–by his form, colour and the aquatic plants on his body–represented the forces of water and the Nile. With William in his tomb, Senbi II could control the Nile in the Afterlife.  However, in order to prevent the hippo from harming him, three of its legs were intentionally broken.

Bucket list status:  I have seen William a few times and he’s not the only faience hippo at the Met.  There are also other hippos in museums all over the world.

Additional information: William can be seen in Gallery 111 at the Met; he’s number 17.9.1 in the collection.