1920s-era cigarette trading card art and text:
Scarabs are engraved stones representing the Scarab
beetle (Scarabaeus sacer), which rolls each of its eggs
in a ball of mud, and may be seen on sandy slopes
in the hot sunshine of Egypt; rounding the pellet by
pushing it backwards uphill with its hind legs, and
allowing it to roll down again. The ancient Egyptian
compared this living germ to the sun, which brings
matter into life, and the Scarab became the symbol
of creation, and sacred to their Sun-god, Khepera. It
was their custom as far back as 4,000 years B.C. to
bury these engraved Scarabs with their dead, and
frequently one was placed in the heart itself. It was
an emblem of re-creation, and symbolized the
evolution of the soul through eternity.
The author of this trading card text is being overly delicate: the scarab beetle rolls a pellet of dung, not "mud;" hence its common name, dung-beetle. It feeds upon dung and utilizes the heat of composting dung to hatch its eggs. The scarab larva feeds on dung until it emerges, fully moulted and ready to fly. In addition the text errs in stating that all scarabs are carved of stone; many were moulded in ancient times from a composition called faeince, which was then glazed with colours.
The item in the trading card is a gold ring with a streaky
grey-red stone scarab amulet mounted in an oval
open bezel by means of a wire passing through it
from head to tail. However, the most common
scarab amulets were made of soft soapstone or
faience with a blue-green glaze. Here is a tiny
faience scarab from my personal collection. It was given
to me when i was a child, in 1957, by a friend of my
mother's who knew i was interested in Egyptology.
My faience scarab may be old or it may be a 1950s replica; in any case, it looks enough like a genuinely old scarab for scanning purposes. It is 1/4 inch wide and 3/8 inch from nose to tail and there are neatly carved hieroglyphics on the bottom.
Like other Egyptian amulets, scarabs were strung as beads, wrapped with mummies, or mounted in open ring bezels. Larger stone "heart scarab" amulets, usually engraved on the underside with a particular passage from the "Book of the Dead," were placed over the heart area on a mummy. Rarest of all are heart scarabs mounted in a double-wing-shaped bezel, the feathers of the wings made up of coloured stones or faience tiles.
The three scarabs shown here are beautiful modern reproductions of ancient amulets, made in Egypt. They are each about 1" wide and 1 1/1/2 inches long. Both the plain greenish one at left and the bluish one with heiroglyphs on the beetle's wing-covers at right have an antiqued matte glaze and delicately carved open-work legs that enable them to be worn as hanging pendants. The brown one in the center is finished with a richly antiqued satin glaze; it is a solid piece, made in the "heart scarab" style formerly used in mummy-wrappings. Contemporary owners may wish to carry such a heart scarab as a pocket piece, place it on an altar, or use it as originally intended by wrapping it over the heart of a well-loved pet prepared for burial. All three of these reproduction scarabs have detailed and authentic-looking heiroglyphic inscriptions on their undersides, as shown.
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