The ancient Egyptians maintained that the sun
was propelled across the heavens by means of
a scarab, or sacred beetle. With the passing of
time, the Egyptians created a series of
amulets in the form of this beetle in a great
variety of materials, and these were routinely
provided with inscriptions in hieroglyphs
conveniently accommodated to their stylized
flat bottoms. Such scarabs were generally
incorporated into finger rings, as here, where
they served as bezels.
Our scarab is just such a variation with a
remarkable degree of ornamentation on its
upper side. The head with its eyes, the plate,
and the clypeus are well articulated. Although
the thorax and elytra, or wing case, which are
simply indicated by a single, V-shaped notch
on each side of the beetle’s body, the elytra is
itself ornamented with an asymmetrically
designed, double cruciform element over
which a series of dotted concentric circles in
two groups of four at the top and bottom have
been superimposed. Although such patterns
are a common decorative element on scarabs
of the period, scholars have yet to
convincingly identify their meaning.
Nevertheless, such motifs, which may have
originally been imbued with magical
properties, were first introduced in the Middle
Kingdom and were repeatedly encountered on
scarabs of later periods. The curl design on
the elytra is likewise attested during the period
to which our scarab is assigned.
Scarab finger-rings, mounted in settings with
swivel bezels, as seen here in our finger ring,
are attested from the time of the Middle
Kingdom and become particularly popular in
the New Kingdom.
For a discussion of these designs, see,
Daphna Ben-Tor, The Scarab. A Reflection of
Ancient Egypt (Jerusalem 1993, page 31; and
Carol Andrews, Ancient Egyptian Jewellery
(London 1990), page 164, for a discussion of
these finger rings.
Translation and interpretation kindly provided
by Prof. Robert S. Bianchi.