“First-of-its-kind” ancient Egypt amulet discovered in Israel linked to the Egyptian god of the sun, Ra

Image Credit: IAA

A “first-of-its-kind” tiny scarab amulet discovered in the Negev Desert by hikers has surprised Israeli archaeologists, saying it has a strong and surprising link to the Egyptian god of the sun, Ra.

The artefact was found by a group of hikers from Jerusalem touring an archaeological site in the northwest Negev Desert in southern Israel.

Although similar amulets have been used by the people living along the coasts of the Eastern Mediterranean, archaeologists consider this particular scarab is having very few contemporaries.

The Israel Antiquities Authority – IAA’s archaeologists have dated the item to the 9th or 8th centuries BC – around 2,000 years before Jesus Christ’s birth.

The IAA declared this week: “For centuries, they were used by the ancient Egyptians and neighbouring peoples, but this particular amulet has only known two parallels – one in Lebanon and one in Egypt – and is the first of its kind to be discovered in Israel.”

The scarab amulet is very small – smaller than a coin – but it’s quite unique.

The front is designed as a scarab – means”coming into being” or dung beetle, showing a strong link to the Egyptian gods.

According to Ancient Egyptian myth, the scarab was a manifestation of the Sun god Ra, one of the chief creator gods.

Egyptologist Dr Daphna Ben-Tor said: “This link between the creator god and the beetle stemmed from a misinterpretation by the Egyptians.

“Having observed the beetle emerging from a ball of sheep’s dung where the female had laid its egg, they interpreted it as an act of spontaneous self-creation.

“Rolling the ball of dung on which it feeds, the Egyptians regarded the scarab beetle as the embodiment of the Sun god, who rolls the Sun across the sky.

“The dung beetle, therefore, symbolized the daily rebirth of the morning Sun.

“These amulets came to symbolize rebirth in the world of the dead and hence their popularity, particularly as funerary amulets that accompanied the deceased to the afterlife.”

Ra (the god of the Sun, sky and kings) is seen among the chief gods of the Egyptian pantheon and is often portrayed as a man with the head of a falcon.

Thousands of scarab-shaped amulets have been found beyond Egypt’s borders, including in tombs and “ancient layers” in Israel.

Omer Shalev, director of the IAA’s educational centre in Jerusalem, said: “We are grateful to these young people for demonstrating exemplary citizenship and handing the rare scarab over to the National Treasures Department.

“A find of this kind can enrich our knowledge of the past.”

The amulet has now been incorporated into Israel’s National Treasures collection.