The Jeweller in ancient Egypt
Jewellers in ancient Egypt needed to know and follow a strict set of rules in order to fulfil the religious function of jewellery. Specific materials, colours and designs were often associated with certain gods and goddesses or had magical qualities of protection. Any changes to these could affect the ‘spiritual’ value of the items.
Everyone wore jewellery in ancient Egypt, from poor farmers to wealthy royals. For the wealthy, pieces were made from semi-precious stones, precious metals and glass beads. The poor substituted these with painted clay, stones, shells, animal teeth and bones. Egyptians placed great significance on the magical qualities of jewellery and primarily wore it to protect them from disease, ward off evil or bring good fortune.
Many cultures and individuals, including some today, have placed great faith in symbolic jewellery like amulets or charms. However, ancient Egyptians elevated the influence of these to a greater level. They believed that amulets endowed the wearer with magical powers of protection and healing and also brought good fortune. Jewellers made a great variety of these charms and from an early age, people would wear them around the neck, wrists, fingers and ankles.
Protection by amulets was especially important in the afterlife so amulets were placed on various parts of the mummy during the wrapping process. Although there were hundreds of amulets that were available for use, the final selection would depend on the person’s wealth and individual choice. A widely used amulet was the heart scarab.
The heartscarab was placed over the dead person’s heart to protect it from being separated from the body in the underworld. The heart, which contained a record of all the person’s actions in life, was essential for the ‘Weighing of the Heart Ceremony’ as it was weighed against the feather of the goddess Ma’at. If the scales were balanced, the person passed and entered the afterlife. For those who were concerned about this test, they could recite the spell inscribed on their heartscarab to prevent their heart from ‘betraying’ them.
Spell 30B from the Book of the Dead, a funerary text, was usually carved into the underside of heartscarab amulets. Part of the text reads: ‘Oh, my heart of my mother … my heart of my existence! Do not stand against me … do not oppose me in the Council, do not act against me under the gods, outweigh me not before the keeper of the balance … do not utter a lie against me beside the Great God …’