Sunday, January 25, 2015

Museum Pieces - Amulet in the form of a head of an elephant

Amulet in the form of a head of an elephant

Period: Predynastic, Naqada II
Date: ca. 3500–3300 B.C.
Geography: From Egypt
Medium: Serpentine Bone
Dimensions: h. 3.5 x w. 3.6 x d. 2.1 cm (1 3/8 x 1 7/16 x 13/16 in.)
Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1959
Accession Number: 59.101.1

Few amulets from the Predynastic Period are known. In the past, Egyptologists identified these amulets as representing a bull's head, but the round face and eyes, the horns that curve inward to the face, and a snout with a defined ridge make a strong argument for its identification as an elephant. During this period, elephants lived in oasis-like zones in the high desert created by greater rainfall than today. They were probably a rare sight to floodplain dwellers, but their size, tusks, and aggressive displays made them an awe-inspiring creature and an excellent subject for a potent amulet.

An amulet is a small object that a person wears, carries, or offers to a deity because he or she believes that it will magically bestow a particular power or form of protection. The conviction that a symbol, form, or concept provides protection, promotes well-being, or brings good luck is common to all societies: in our own, we commonly wear religious symbols, carry a favorite penny, or a rabbit's foot. In ancient Egypt, amulets might be carried, used in necklaces, bracelets, or rings, and—especially—placed among a mummy's bandages to ensure the deceased a safe, healthy, and productive afterlife.

Egyptian amulets functioned in a number of ways. Symbols and deities generally conferred the powers they represent. Small models that represent known objects, such as headrests or arms and legs, served to make sure those items were available to the individual or that a specific need could be addressed. Magic contained in an amulet could be understood not only from its shape. Material, color, scarcity, the grouping of several forms, and words said or ingredients rubbed over the amulet could all be the source for magic granting the possessor's wish.

Small representations of animals seem to have functioned as amulets already in the Predynastic Period (ca. 4500–3100 B.C.). In the Old Kingdom (ca. 2649–2150 B.C.), most amulets took an animal form or were symbols (often based on hieroglyphs), although generalized human forms occurred. Amulets depicting recognizable deities begin to appear in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.), and the New Kingdom (ca. 1550–1070 B.C.) showed a further increase in the range of amulet forms. With the Third Intermediate Period (ca. 1070–712 B.C.), there was an explosion in the quantity of amulets, and many new types, especially deities, appeared.


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