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HOME : Egyptian Antiquities : Archive : Egyptian Seal
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Egyptian Seal - LO.1130 (LSO)
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 1300 BC to 900 BC
Dimensions: 0.750" (1.9cm) wide
Collection: Egyptian Antiquities

Additional Information: SOLD
Location: Great Britain
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This beautiful stone (steatite) seal has been rendered in the likeness of a cowrie shell, which had considerable social significance for the Ancient Egyptians. These shells have always been rare and valued – they were (and indeed are) still used as money in many parts of the world, and they are also considered to have magical powers linked to femininity and fertility. They were used as eyes in ceramic Neolithic sculptures in the Near East, as gaming tokens, aids to divination, and they are still used today as magical charms (Democratic Republic of the Congo). In the ancient Egyptian period their magical properties were known, and they were extensively used as jewellery by young women.

The flat aspect of the stone has been beautifully carved into the likeness of a duck, and what are perhaps intended to be floral garlands. The duck may be intended to be a name; the duck (pronounced Za) is half of the title “Za Ra” – Son of Ra – the honorific title bestowed upon the God-Kings of ancient Egypt. It also worked for female members of the royal family. The rendering is exquisite, with the tiniest details picked out perfectly. The style of the carving places this piece in the 19th Dynasty.

The reason for rendering a natural object in stone is not immediately apparent. However, it is probable that the carver wished to capture the talismanic quality of the cowrie and to impose that upon a utilitarian object. Personal seals were very important to the Egyptians, and everyone of status owned one. The fact that this is on such a clearly female-oriented object seems to suggest that it was carved for a woman of some prestige, but who nonetheless wanted the cosmic benefits that a good-luck token could bring.

This is a beautiful and elegant piece of ancient jewellery.


W. M. Flinders Petrie, Scarabs and Cylinders with Names (London 1917), plate LXXI, nos. 34-35; and Carol Andrews, Amulets of Ancient Egypt (Austin 1994), pages 42-43, for a discussion of the cowrie shell and its design. - (LO.1130 (LSO))


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