Object: Amulet

Slate Turtle Amulet
Possibly Pre-Dynastic
Materials:  Slate

This object is a small (1 15/16” long) slate amulet from Egypt.  The thin slate disc is crudely carved in the outline of a turtle.  A hole is pierced near the tail for suspension.

The earliest representations of the Nile turtle date back to pre-dynastic times and were associated with magical significance that was meant to ward off evil.  Amulets such as this example were designed to defend the wearer’s health and life.  As time passed, the turtle became synonymous with drought, the enemy of the Sun god Ra.   Many times, a pair of tortoises would be depicted with a scale, representing the ebb and flow of the Nile‘s floodwaters.  Eventually, the turtle was associated with Set (the god of wind, desert storms, conflict and evil), and so with the enemies of Ra who tried to stop the solar barge as it traveled through the underworld to re-emerge with the new dawn.  Since the turtle was associated with night, it came to symbolize darkness and evil.  By the New Kingdom, the Sun god’s hostility toward the lowly turtle was even more strongly formulated in the phrase, “May Ra live and may the turtle die.”

Turtle shtyw

Belonging to the reptile order of Testudines, turtles are one of the oldest reptile groups known.  They are characterized by a special bony or cartilaginous shell developed from their ribs.  This shell acts as a shield into which the turtle withdraws at danger.  Turtles

are cold-blooded, which means they can varying their internal temperature according to the ambient environment. Turtles live in both aquatic and terrestrial environments; however, they lay their eggs on land only.

The turtle amulet is made from slate.  Slate is a metamorphic rock derived from a shale-type sedimentary rock composed of clay or volcanic ash.  Usually grey in color, slate can be found in various shades of grey from pale to dark and may also be purple or green.  Care must be taken to not confuse slate with shale, from which it may be formed, or schist (granite).   [Debra Taylor]

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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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