Period: Dynasty XVIII, reign of Pharaoh Tutankhamun
Dimensions: Height: 9 cm. Width: 10’5.
Material: gold, lapis lazuli, carnelian, turquoise, feldspar…
Place of conservation: Cairo Museum
Location: Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings (KV 62)
Among the magnificent discoveries that the exploration of Tutankhamun’s tomb was to bring, one of the most suggestive surprises was located inside a box located in the Treasure Chamber (Fig. 2).
Howard Carter found a group of jewels among which was a pectoral representation a winged scarab beetle. It is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular and attractive representations of one of the most recurrent themes in Egyptian iconography (Fig. 1).
The insect, made in lapis lazuli, display beautiful wings that curve and culminate with the figure of a solar disk.
The design is achieved thanks to the incrustations set with the cloisonné process, a technique of great tradition in Pharaonic Egypt.
On the reverse side, a single and large support ring is visible, which allowed the jewel to hang possibly from a cord or chain.
The golden bottom also appears succinctly ornamented, standing out by means of chiseling the forms of the scarab beetle, its wings, etc. (Fig. 4).
The truth is that the work is somewhat coarse and there are appreciable misalignments and inaccuracies.
With regard to the plastic resources used in the breastplate (Fig. 1), it is necessary to highlight the chromatic contrast achieved in the wings, as well as the design that causes them to bend and extend towards the solar disk.
It is a symmetrical composition, with a careful ascending effect that manages to direct attention towards the solar disk.
It can also be observed that in the design of the wings an area without incrustations was left, which provides a somewhat extensive surface of gold on each side of the front legs of the scarab beetle.
This emphasizes the presence of these legs, preventing them from being diluted between the colorful and variegated wings, where the blue color, the same as that of the legs of the animal, is dominant.
The other two legs of the animal, of secondary importance, are practically confused with the prevailing blue tones. It is also striking that the animal has only four legs, when in reality the dung beetle has six.
It seems that the central limbs were sacrificed so as not to interfere with the design and achieve a much more harmonious result.
The solar disk, of remarkable dimensions, attracts attention. The color of the carnelian helps to enhance its presence, since in the rest of the jewel the blue and green tones prevail, relegating the red only to small details that serve to give rhythm and balance to the composition.
In addition, the disc is especially striking when placed on an axis of symmetry and thanks to the design of the wings.
Wings that get the whole pectoral acquire a rounded shape, reiterating the allusion to the disc and further enhancing the implicit solar concept to the symbolism of the jewel.
To add that to emphasize the image of the sun even more, a very wide edging was made in the environment of the incrustation, marking a golden profile in its surroundings that does not appear surrounding any other element of the breastplate.
What is the meaning of the scarab beetle in ancient Egypt?
The scarab beetle is common in Egypt, so also in ancient times it was common to observe the efforts of these animals dragging and spinning dung balls.
In this image the Egyptians found a simple and effective metaphor, which allowed linking the animal and the movement of the solar star through the sky.
That is to say, the beetle god embodied the powerful force that makes the sun rise every morning on the horizon and move inexorably towards the west.
But, in addition, we must bear in mind that the beetle hides under the subsoil the ball of manure, placing it in a kind of chamber in which it is also buried and dies.
Before, however, you will have put your egg inside the ball that will serve as food to the larva and that will allow its initial development.
Soon after, at the burial site, a new newborn beetle emerges to the surface. So in a way it is as if an old and tired beetle managed to renew itself to start a new existence.
The truth is that it is not surprising that the ancient Egyptians considered that the coleopter has the capacity for rebirth and self-generation and that they divined it by giving it the name of Khepri “the one who comes into existence “or” the one who comes to be”.
Because of its implications Khepri was fundamental in the cosmogonic context and mythology attributed the power to move the giant ball that illuminates the whole of creation, becoming the engine of all existence.
An existence that is also able to regenerate and perpetuate, so the beetle was closely linked with the beliefs of beyond the grave and with the propitiation of eternity.
Certainly the vital journey of the insect implied a similar or referent in regard to the culmination of funeral expectations: to bury oneself to achieve eternity with renewed energy, emerging from the desert sand towards a new life.
The scarab beetle is one of the most traditional images of Egyptian iconography, being one of the most common symbols.
Its representation became a very popular amulet, to which protective and propitiatory capacities were granted, and of which innumerable examples have been located.
Even on the mummies, in the chest area, a kind of amulet called “heart beetle” was often placed, assimilating this powerful motor of existence with the motor organ of the human body and, according to the Egyptian belief, also the seat of thought and consciousness.
In ancient Egypt the name was considered a fundamental component in the identity and was considered directly associated with the essence of individuals.
In the case of kings and gods, the names reached a particularly relevant dimension and they were given exceptional powers.
Hence, representing the scarab beetle circling the solar disk and integrating at the same time the hieroglyphics that write the king’s cartridge is an image with the ability to achieve great significance.
In fact, transforming the isolated signs that make up the name of the pharaoh and turning them into a mythological narrative, presented the pharaoh in an indistinguishable way from the divinity: the essence of the divine beetle and the monarch merge, their natures are confused.