Object: Amulet

C/1987/7/17
Amulet
Egypt
Date unknown
Materials: faience

Amulets were used by ancient Egyptians as good luck charms and offered protection from evil forces. Amulets could be worn as jewelry or carried by the living. Amulets were also often inserted in the wrappings of mummies to protect the deceased. During the 19th century this practice of inserting amulets within the wrappings helped to encourage the seemingly bizarre practice of “mummy unwrapping parties.” Mummies were collected by travelers and shipped back to Europe and the Americas where the new “owner” would host an event featuring the unwrapping and destruction of the mummy. During the course of the event many of these amulets could be discovered and kept as souvenirs. Many mummies were destroyed in this way.

This amulet is made of green Egyptian faience. While faience can be produced in different colors, many pieces of Egyptian faience are blue, a very powerful color to ancient Egyptians. The color blue symbolized the Nile, which was a source life and rebirth. Blue faience also provided a more reasonably priced alternative to the semi-precious stone, lapis lazuli.

The museum’s catalog identifies this amulet as depicting a lotus blossom, however, upon examination of the piece I believe this to be incorrect. Instead, I believe this is a “heart amulet.” Ancient Egyptians believed that the heart, rather than the brain, was the source of human intelligence, emotion, and the conscience. When mummifying a body all of the other internal organs were removed from the body and stored in special jars in the tomb. Even the brain, which today is seen as the source of human thought, was removed from the body through the nose. However, the heart was kept in the body so that the deceased would have it at judgment in the afterlife. Heart amulets were placed within the mummy’s wrappings near the chest of the deceased so that if his/her real heart was damaged or destroyed the amulet could take its place.

Other examples of heart amulets can be found in the Egyptian Museum of Cairo, and the Governorate of Alexandria. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Amulet

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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