Called the dung beetle because of its practice of rolling a ball of dung across the ground. The Egyptians observed this behavior and equated it with the ball of the sun being rolled across the sky. They confused this balled food source with the egg sack that the female dung beetle laid and buried in the sand. When the eggs hatched the dung beetles would seem to appear from nowhere, making it a symbol of spontaneous creation. In this role it was associated with the sunrise.
Khepri was the scarab headed god. The Scarab personified the god, Khepri, a sun god associated with resurrection. As such, the large winged scarab and the heart scarab were considered good luck beetles and placed on mummies for protection against evil. These amulets were often inscribed with a spell from the Book of the Dead, which entreated the heart to, “not stand as a witness against me.” Scarab beetles lay their eggs in dung, which they roll into a ball and roll into a hole.
The Egyptians equated this with the movement of the sun and its daily resurrection. Ancient Egyptians believed that a winged scarab flew across the sky each morning carrying the sun. The scarab was a symbol of the rising sun and as a protector from evil; it is also a symbol of rebirth, regeneration, creation, transformation and was commonly worn to gain strength. In one version of the creation myth of ancient Egypt, a lotus flower rose out of the primeval waters of Nun, the infinite ocean of chaos. The petals parted to reveal a scarab beetle. The scarab then transformed itself into a boy, who wept. His tears then became humankind. Along with the pyramids, sphinxes, and mummies, the scarabs are one of the most familiar objects representing Egypt. Scarabs have been collected for centuries and were particularly popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Popularity decreased during the Great Depression and they have never regained their status as a hobby collectible of the elite.
The benefit of diminished popularity for collectors today is that very rare and interesting scarabs are far more affordable than might be expected for such important historical pieces. Scarabaeus sacer is the Latin name for the dung beetle. Today most people do not have great appreciation for this insect, but this variety and several other members of the family Scarabaeidae, were sacred to the ancient Egyptians. They connected the beetles’ habits of rolling balls of dung around their eggs with the concept of eternal life in the after-world. The meaning of Kheper or Scarab was “becoming, being, metamorphosing, generation, new life, virility, and resurrection.” Representations of the beetle were an essential symbol in Egyptian art and a whole class of seals and amulets were made in its image.
These little amulets of beetle form often bear hieroglyphic designs on their base including good luck wishes, the names gods, and the names of individuals both noble and common. The most obviously interesting scarabs are those with names of kings, of the royal family, and of officials. Pharaohs were worshiped as gods, and the names of the current pharaoh or a popular deceased pharaohs, such as Thothemes III, were used to bring good luck to the bearer. Scarabs were manufactured in a wide variety of materials including steatite, faience, stone, glass, and bone, from the Old Kingdom through the Roman period. The most common material used was Steatite.
Scarabs are always to be understood to be steatite or schist unless otherwise described. Steatite is also known as soapstone, a medium for carving for thousands of years. Steatite also denotes a glassy ceramic material made from soapstone, used by ancient civilizations to make beads, amulets, seals and scarabs. To make the ceramic-like material, steatite was sometimes mixed with additives, it was either carved or molded into the desired shape, and was then heated to a temperature between 1000 and 1200 °C. At that temperature the surface of steatite will vitrify, fusing into the glassy substances enstatite and cristobalite. On the Mohs scale, the change increases hardness from 1 to between 5.5 and 6.5.
To the novice, all styles of scarabs probably look much alike; but to an accustomed eye the specialities of each dynasty, and even of separate reigns, are very clear. The distinction of the styles of scarabs is as much a special subject as the discrimination of the manner of painters, and as invisible to those who are unfamiliar with the study.
All the brown scarabs (which are a majority) were originally green glazed; while most of the white ones (excepting possibly some of Amenhotep III) were originally blue. There are also the white and grey ones without any glaze remaining, which were either blue or green. The evidences for these transformations are innumerable in the half-way stages, not only scarabs, but also ushabtis. Where the color has changed and the original can be still see, it is usually noted; as green gone brown or blue gone white, for example.
Heart scarabs functioned as a replacement of the heart organ of a mummy, and represented the person or spirit of the deceased individual. The earliest heart scarabs appeared during the second intermediate period (c. 1700 B.C.) and became relatively more common during the New Kingdom. If inscribed, heart scarabs, usually include text from chapter XXXb of the Book of the Dead…
Scarabs serve an extremely important role in the discovery of Egyptian history, much as coins serve in the discovery of Western history. The names of most known pharaohs have been found on scarabs. Although the most popular pharaohs’ names were revived and used on commemorative scarabs hundreds of years after their death, most scarabs were made during the lifetime of the individuals named. Some pharaohs and officials are known to us only from scarabs and the dates of their reigns were determined only by the archaeological context of scarab finds and by the art and fabric of the scarabs that name them. Scarabs not only have identified the names and dated the reigns of the pharaohs, changes in the style and manufacture of scarabs serves as an index to changes in the civilization. Without the study of scarabs, a large part of our knowledge of ancient Egypt would have been lost.