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.

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.