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The Purpose of Amulets in Ancient Egyptian History

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    In Ancient Egyptian culture, an amulet, is a small object that a person wears, carries, or offers to a deity because he or she believes that it will magically bestow a particular power or form of protection. The conviction that a symbol, form, or concept provides protection, promotes well-being, or brings good luck is common to all societies, in our own, we commonly wear religious symbols, carry a favorite penny, or a rabbit’s foot. In ancient Egypt, amulets might be carried, used in necklaces, bracelets, or rings, and—especially—placed among a mummy’s bandages to ensure the deceased a safe, healthy, and productive afterlife.

    Egyptian amulets functioned in a number of ways. Symbols and deities generally conferred the powers that they represented. Magic contained in an amulet could be understood not only from its shape, but material, color, scarcity, the grouping of several forms, and words said or ingredients rubbed over the amulet could all be the source for magic granting the possessor’s wish. Small representations of animals seem to have functioned as amulets in the Predynastic Period (ca. 4500–3100 B. C. ). In the Old Kingdom (ca. 2649–2150 B. C. , most amulets took an animal form or were symbols (often based on hieroglyphs), although generalized, human forms occurred. Amulets depicting recognizable deities begin to appear in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B. C. ), and the New Kingdom (ca. 1550–1070 B. C. ) showed a further increase in the range of amulet forms. With the Third Intermediate Period (ca. 1070–712 B. C. ). ” It is said that Egyptians always had knowledge of metal work but the existence of metal being used for jewelry dates back to the Predynastic era in the Ancient Empire.

    Before metals and stones were worn, Egyptians used painted bones, shells and wood and for their jewelry. Starting from the New Kingdom, all social classes wore amulets. The wearing of these religious items was widespread by both sexes alike, since all people needed the protection it provided. Lower social classes made their amulets from cheap materials such as colored clay and fake reproductions There was an explosion in the quantity of amulets, and many new types, especially deities, appeared. – As with other forms of Egyptian art, design of jewelry followed strict rules to fulfill it’s religious role.

    Any change in the representation of religious symbols resulted in a loss of protective value. It was undesirable to change the designs of any objects such as the royal cartouches or crook and flail. Every material had a religious value – Minerals and metals were identified with specific deities as well as with specific spiritual and therapeutic values. Every color had a certain mythological meaning, and the use of colored gems were confined to this code The use of inlays of gold, precious stones, or glass was very common in earrings and other jewellry of the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC).

    Pierced ears were just as fashionable for men as they were for women during the New Kingdom. Several pairs of elaborate earrings were found in the intact tomb of Tutankhamun. Earrings were made in many shapes and of many types of material. Wall paintings in the tomb of Nebamun show women wearing large gold earrings. These were elements of their best attire, worn on special occasions. Such adornments are not restricted to the wealthy guests at the banquet, but are also part of the elaborate dress of the singers, musicians and dancers. The scarab is one such symbol that is commonly used in Egyptian jewelry.

    This symbol signifies rebirth. This sacred scarab enjoyed an important position between the ancient Egyptians. Generally, such scarabs were crafted from green stones. These were always placed with the chest of the deceased. This is evident from the excavations carried out by numerous archaeologists. The ankh is yet another symbol that is seen amongst Egyptian ornaments. The meaning of this symbol is life. This shape resembles a cross that has a large loop at the top. This symbol was often crafted in silver or gold and sometimes copper was also used.

    It is often used in association with the Gods and is also known as the Egyptian Cross or the key of life. The cartouche is a symbol that was worn mainly by Pharaohs. This was also known as the magical oval. It was used to create amulets that always had the king’s name inscribed on it. Below the name, one can notice a horizontal line as well. This name was particularly depicted in pictorial symbols and the theory behind this was to always keep the memory of the king alive. This symbol was also inscribed on the tomb of the king. Today, many designs use the form of the cartouche.

    The flower of life is another symbol used in the making of Egyptian ornaments This contains many overlapping circles that resemble a flower. Today, one can find many designs that incorporate the flower of life. Studies have revealed many different meanings to this symbol. Ancient Egyptian embellishment was thus as interesting as their beautiful and rich culture. Even today, the skilled craftsmanship of the jewelers during the ancient times still stand out due to their intricate and beautiful designs. Over thousands of years, jewelry has been worn by many people.

    Whether to show beauty, wealth, or belief of powers, there is no era that can compare, or hold the spiritual characteristics of the jewels of Ancient Egypt. At the beginning of the kingdom, precious stones and metals were discovered and worn like never seen before. Unfortunately, the remaining Egyptian jewelry that is displayed in Museums today is only a small fraction of what actually existed due to grave robbers. Questions such as how jewelry started, how it was made and worn, what the symbolization of jewelry was, and who the people were that wore the jewelry in Ancient Egypt all have an affiliation with a spiritual belief system.

    Not long after, as jewelry evolved, the use of precious stones, and metals was adopted with the belief of spiritualism. In the extensive research presented, it is difficult to choose just one article to summarize and discuss, however, in a collaberation of info put forth in works by both Kashmira Lad, and Ayman Fadl, I found their approaches to the associated symbolism of Egyption Jewelry quite similar and very compelling. Early egyptians were able to obtain most of the jewels from the Nile but the first uses of metals such as copper and bronze were found mostly in the Sinai Peninsula or other mines nearby.

    Gold and gemstones were also found in this area. [1] Most of the raw materials that were used to make jewelry were found in Egypt, but certain prized materials such as lapis lazuli were imported from Afghanistan. “Ancient gold was considered to be the skin of gods, and was the metal of choice for most of the jewelry because of its god-like complex. ” (Fadl, Ayman)[2] Each symbol, material, construction of a peice, and stone or gem, held a high representation of social heiarchy, status, spirituality, wealth, power, etc.

    Where Kashmira Lad developes the symbolism of characters seen in works of jewelry, Ayman Fadl explains the representaion of particular gems and their color in his work Aldokkan, (2001. ) This particularly captured my interest, because I have been an avid rocks and minerals collector for years now, and it was strangely exciting to find out which “gem” meant what in Ancient Egyptian culture. In Fadl’s work he included a chart in which he categorized the meaning of certain stones, and I wanted to include this information in my paper to allocate the emotional complex represented by each gem, and they are as follows: The green color of turquoise was synonymous with joy and life.

    Hathor[->0] was titled the Mistress of Turquoise”, which was connected to joy. – Egyptians believed that Lapiz Lazuli possessed life-giving powers. The Book of the dead[->1] describes Horus[->2] in a heavenly firmament in the form of a hawk and “his torso is made of blue stone” Blue was the color of the heavens, water, and the primeval flood, and it represented creation and rebirth. Red Jasper symbolized fire and blood of Isis. The gem was thought to be beneficial in the treatment of infertility. Hathor[->3] was titled the “lady of Malachite”, which was connected to health Reputed to have strong therapeutic properties, Egyptians believed that wearing malachite in bands around the head and arms protected the wearer from epidemics. -Dark/Light Brown Carnelian Symbolized the warm blood of life Carnelian’s healing properties were thought to help purify the blood, and relieve the back pain. – Amazonite Its light blue color symbolized good luck and fertility It was associated with turquoise and lapis lazuli.

    Amethyst: This gem had no mythological importance in ancient Egypt, in contrast to the Greeks who believed that it helped to prevent drunkenness and intoxication. Emeralds: Contrary to popular beliefs and commercial propaganda, before the Ptolemaic Period[->4] emeralds were unknown in Egypt, and have no special symbolic meaning in mythology, However Emeralds were used for Royal jewelry items only at the end of the Ptolemaic Period[->5], before this period not a single item of emerald has been found in the reasures of the ancient Egyptians. Queen Cleopatra[->6] was known for her devotion to emeralds, and the green color later became associated with envy; i. e jealousy. “][3] Overall, a very interesting insight to the many meanings, and spiritual relevancies the Ancient Egyptions shared with ther Jewelry.

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    The Purpose of Amulets in Ancient Egyptian History. (2017, Feb 10). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-purpose-of-amulets-in-ancient-egyptian-history/

    Frequently Asked Questions

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    What does a amulet symbolize?
    An amulet, also known as a good luck charm, is an object believed to confer protection upon its possessor. The word "amulet" comes from the Latin word amuletum, which Pliny's Natural History describes as "an object that protects a person from trouble".
    What was the purpose of amulets in mummification?
    A variety of amulets were placed within a mummy's wrappings. These charms served two purposes: protection from danger and the renewal of strength.
    What was the purpose of Egyptian symbols?
    Symbols in a largely illiterate society serve the vital purpose of relaying the most important values of the culture to the people generation after generation & so it was in ancient Egypt. The crowns of Egypt in art also have distinct meaning and symbolism.
    What were amulets used for?
    In addition to strictly funerary types, amulets worn by the living were generally used for the dead as well, since their benefit also applied to the afterlife. Amulets representing a goddess or god (1984.176), for example, occur in both spheres, as they were meant to invoke the deity's specific powers.

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