Egyptian Scarab Beetles
Summary: Fossils of scarab beetles have been dated back 40 million years. These bugs were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians because they represented new life. Images of Egyptian scarab beetles were engraved in hieroglyphics and carved into many amulets and jewelry that the Egyptians wore.
Did you know that fossils of the scarab beetle are about 40 million years old? The ancient Egyptians worshiped the scarab beetle. This sacred insect was commonly used in hieroglyphics. Its image was referred to as Khepri, which has been interpreted to mean “to transform” or “to become”.
Way back before most modern-day scientific discoveries were made people relied on what they saw without any help from microscopes or other advanced equipment. The people that lived in ancient times saw the scarab beetle roll a
ball of dung across the ground and reproduce soon thereafter. So, they believed that the beetle was reproducing completely on its own. These people started to associate the beetle with new life or spontaneous generation.
The Egyptians believed that the scarab beetle, aka Khepri, was symbolic of Ra, the god of the rising sun. Just as the beetle rolled a ball of dung across the earth, Ra was said to roll the sun across the sky. The beetle's antennae symbolized the sun's rays. Also, the scarab beetle hid in holes dug in the earth and reemerged later. The ancient Egyptians began to correlate resurrection with this insect.
The scarab beetle image was used in ancient Egypt to stamp important documents. Its likeness was also used to create many types of unique jewelry. Some materials that were used include ivory, bone, stone, painted clay and metals. Most jewelry was carved as Egyptian faience, which is a type of ceramic made with opaque glaze. The Egyptians inscribed the scarab jewelry as a way to ward off evil.
Many unique colors were used in scarab jewelry. The color red represented the sun god Khepri. Blue represented the Nile River, green symbolized growth and yellow symbolized the sun and the desert.
Amulets were made to resemble scarab beetles. These stones were worn for good luck. The scarab beetle emblem came to mean new life or rebirth and the ancient peoples believed this concept would come about to the wearers of the amulets. They even put the amulets on mummies hoping that it would bring about rebirth for the deceased. The ancient Egyptians would also place canisters of mummified scarabs in tombs to further ensure resurrection. While people nowadays may be repulsed by such practices, these traditions were seen as sacred to ancient Egyptians.
The amulets that people wore as necklaces were pierced when they were molded to allow a string to pass through it. Amulets made for the deceased were not pierced and were placed under the wrappings on the chest of the mummy. These amulets were called heart scarabs because of where they were placed on the body. The Egyptians believed that the dead were interrogated about their sins, so the amulets were believed to keep the deceased from confessing. Hieroglyphs were usually inscribed on the bottom of scarab amulets. These images were usually of gods, such as Bes, who was viewed as a protector against evil. Women wore these scarab amulets during pregnancy because of their high mortality rates during childbirth.
Many royal Egyptians adopted the word Khepri into their prenomens. The prenomen is similar to what we think of as a nickname today. The parents gave a prenomen to their child and his immediate family would call him or her by this name. Everyone else referred to the child by his or her proper name. For example, King Tut is a famous Egyptian who had the word Khepri incorporated in his prenomen. Tut's official name was King Tutankhamun, but his prenomen was Neb-khepru-re. Try saying that ten times fast.
The Egyptians built sacred scarab statues throughout their cities in honor of their beloved beetle. One of the statues still remains by the Temple of Amun.