04 February 2023

King Tutankhamun's beautiful art treasures

Like other pharaohs, Tutankhamun was buried with all his funerary objects and personal possessions, densely packed in the limited space. Luckily most of the burial goods remained intact. In 1922 when British archaeologist Ho­w­ard Carter entered the intact tomb of King Tutan­kh­amun (c1332–23 BC), his eyes eventually fell on heaps of luxury objects that had been intended to take the boy king into the next world.

King Tutankhamun scarab necklace.
gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise, feldspar

My favourite treasure from Tutank­hamun’s Tomb is in the Cairo Museum, a stunning gold inlay necklace and scarab pendant, a pectoral (on the chest) with suspen­sion chains and cl­asp. This pect­oral of the rising sun on the horizon was one of the fin­est of King Tut’s many pectorals. It had a large lapis lazuli sc­arab in the cen­tre, flanked by two rearing cobras. The scarab, stand­ing on a solar boat, was push­ing a carnelian disk representing the rising sun, and was fl­anked by symbols of stab­ility, long life and beauty.

Each strap had a bead border on either side, the plaques being at­t­ached by means of four strand bead-work at back passed through fixed eyelets on the plaques. The straps terminated with curved gold elem­ents carrying cloissonné vultures, the embodiment of Goddess Nekhbet, prot­ector of the king as ruler of Upper Egypt.

The Pectoral in the Form of a Winged Scarab was another part of the Howard Carter cache, discovered in a box inlaid with ebony and iv­ory. This pectoral features a series of icono­graphical elements of great symbolic value, such as the scarab rend­ered in lapis lazuli. This beautiful winged scarab pectoral illustrates the throne name of King Tutan­khamun. The central element is the scarab Sun God Khepri made of a fine piece of lapis lazuli, and three strokes of plural sign in hier­oglyphs below it. Between the forelegs of the scarab, the ri­s­­en Sun God Re was depicted, i.e the god of the rising sun. It is made of a clear red carnelian set in gold, which represents what, in nature, was the ball of mud and dung cont­aining its eggs that was rolled forward by the beetle. Beneath the plural strokes sign in hieroglyphs is a basket shape Neb inlaid with turquoise. They sweep round to form a circle around the royal name, offering it divine protection.

Pectoral in the Form of a Winged Scarab
Cairo Antiquity Museum

Thank you to Charlotte Davis for research on scarabs. Scarabs were modelled after male Dung Beetles who were known for rolling up animal dung into a ball and rolling. When they gather­ed enough to form a large sphere, they then buried it underground as a food supply for their larvae. Egyp­t­ians believed that the beetle’s dung ball represented the globe which the beetle kept on revolving. The sc­arab beetle’s revolving ball came to represent the eternal cyc­le of life, a symbol of bir­th, life, dea­th and resurrection. Since the sun was believed to die each night and reborn each morning, the scarab took on signif­icant regenerative pow­ers. The deceased needed to harn­ess these pow­ers to move into the afterlife.

In time, the objects showed more div­er­sity in material and crafts­manship. Scarabs were now often produced in faience, with gems­tones like turquoise, am­ethyst, green and red jasper, lapis lazuli. Thus they began to circulate as decorative objects dur­ing the Middle and Late Kingdoms. They were often used as jewellery eg necklaces, rings, tiaras, bracelets and earrings. And as furniture decorat­ion. During the New King­dom, scarabs were used to provide protection and luck.

Some of the pectoral funerary Egyptian scarabs featured birds’ wings to ensure rebirth of the deceased and a peaceful flight into the afterlife. And note Khepri was sometimes shown with bird’s wings.

The scarab was one of the most well-recognised symbols of death, birth and rebirth in Ancient Egypt, and protection in the afterlife. It appeared as amul­ets, on jewel­lery and in funerary contexts. Mod­el­led after the dung beetle, the scarab was closely connected with the Sun God Khepri, who presided over the sun and the ren­ew­al of life. The sc­arab beetle was also associated with the gods At­um and Re, who repr­es­ented primordial creation and the sun, respect­ively. Or the joint power of the sun and creation. 

Winged scarab of Tutankhamun with semi-precious stones.
?date, Wiki

By the New Kingdom era (1550-1070 BC), scarabs had gained signif­ic­ant religious importance and were inscribed with the names of gods. In fact Pharaohs used scarabs to specifically link themselves with div­init­ies. Most not­ably Amenhotep III (1390-52 BC) produced rich gl­azed faience scar­abs during his reign to commemorate his first year on the throne.


Dr. F said...

Anyone interested in King Tut should read Immanuel Velikovsky's "Oedipus and Akhenaten."

roentare said...

Dung beetles are also very powerful to roll things so much bigger than their own size. Such a great piece on the scarabs.

Deb said...

It looks like my favourite Art Deco to me.

My name is Erika. said...

I saw a King Tut traveling exhibit many years ago and I was quite surprised by the beautiful details and craftsmanship in all of the items. This was a really fascinating post about scarabs. I knew they were based on dung beetles but not much else about them. And your favorite necklace found from the tomb is really outstanding. Happy weekend. hugs-Erika

Hels said...

Dr F

I would never have found that reference myself. Even though Immanuel Velikovsky grew up in Vitebsk where half my family originated. And for a psychiatrist, his commitment to the histories and cultures of Egypt and Israel was amazing. So thank you.

Hels said...


the story of Egyptian dung beetles and scarabs is something I never heard about during Art History lectures at University. I loved the images of beetles on jewellery, but I had to rely on Charlotte Davis for their meaning. And she can link you to other readings.

Hels said...


Art Deco jewellery reflected architecture, with bold, geometric patterns; straight lines; bold colours and semi-precious stones (i.e NO diamonds, emeralds and rubies). Now I have to ask the question: Why was Art Deco not designed and made before 1925? Is it possible that once British archaeologist Ho­w­ard Carter first saw King Tutan­kh­amun's jewellery in 1922, jewellers thought they could modernise the ancient Egyptian designs from 1332–23BC?

Probably not, but the connection between the two is stunning

Hels said...


I knew all the discovered treasures were assembled and protected in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and as soon as it opens, in the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza. So I would recommend you make a day available to inspect the treasures, next time you are in Cairo.

World trips were often organised overseas, but the plans went awry during the 3 years of Covid. But new exhibitions WILL go ahead eg
Tutankhamun: His Tomb and his Treasures, Columbus Science Museum, March 2023.
Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh, Australian Museum Sydney, 2023

DUTA said...

Your post reminds me of my unforgetable visit to the archeological museum in Heraklion (Crete), considered one of the finest in Europe. I was very impressed by the section of the personal belongings of people found in their graves. It raised all kinds of questions; inheritance, robbery of the graves, etc.. People in those times believed in afterlife, thought they would need their house and personal items to carry on with their daily chores.

Hels said...


yes indeed. As wealthy ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife, they would have certainly wanted and needed to be buried with their treasures. And for us, that was very fortunate. If the treasures had been sold, left to the children or broken down into their individual jewels, modern museums and scholars would know nothing about them.

Joe said...


here is another stunning piece of jewellery to add to the post.
Winged scarab of Tutankhamun with semi-precious stones. This pectoral is composed of Tut’s name, the hieroglyphs of a basket, scarab and Re, and a lotus fringe.


Hels said...


I will add this gorgeous image straight away, thanks. Hopefully this is the Collar of Nekhebet, the patron goddess of Pharaoh. The winged scarab of Tutankhamun collar was made of gold plaques, coloured glass, with pendants made from carnelian, blue-glass and gold beads.

Hels said...


The "Tutankhamun: His Tomb and his Treasures" exhibition is travelling very widely again, and will definitely include the biggest South American cities. As you have shown in your blog, your museums are beautifully curated, so I recommend a visit to see the young king's treasures.

mem said...

Its just so funny that Dung and something as beautiful as these scarabs is associated . Shows how amazing our imagination is .

mem said...

Have you ever noticed the similarities between Art Deco and the French designs of the Napolionic era . They Egypt in common I think .

Hels said...


I did NOT like the idea of dung, mud, scarabs, cobras, beetles, weevils or any other thing. But if these creepy crawlies were considered to have supernatural powers of protection against enemies and to help the owner into the next world, then Tut and the others would have been negligent not to wear them.

Hels said...


I can't think of any Napoleonic (died 1821) connection, but I can certainly think of Deco-ish influences well before 1925. In the late C19th, France was hopping and jumping with creative design amongst the decorative artists eg textiles. So it shouldn't surprise us that France’s Society of Decorative Arts was established as early as the turn of the century.

bazza said...

These fine objects are absolutely stunning in their beauty! They also look like they could have been made very recently and fire the imagination with images of life in ancient Egypt.
Incidentally this is the only Blog I know where a guest poster doesn't get name-checked!

Vagabonde said...

This is a very informative post. What surprised me when I visited the Cairo Museum was that the colors of the jewelry had remained so vivid. My Armenian father had only one sister who married an Egyptian Armenian. I visited them in Cairo several times and my cousins would take me to see the museum as well as various tombs including in Luxor. We would go often as my cousin (male) loved history and also could read the Egyptian hieroglyphs fluently. His sister was a part-time tour guide at the Cairo Museum so she really gave me informative tours. My uncle was a jeweler who gave me several pieces of jewelry with scarabs on them and I was not aware that they had such significance, now I know, thank you.

Hels said...


if a dealer sells an ancient Egyptian piece of art, it might be:
1. truly an ancient piece
2. a medieval or modern copy of ancient Egyptian art that is clearly sold as a copy or
3. a modern copy that is sold illegally as an ancient Egyptian piece of art.
Since the treasures dug up from ancient tombs are not likely to increase in numbers, museums etc better do their due diligence very very carefully.

I agree that Ho­w­ard Carter located and protected art objects that were stunning in their beauty. The ancient designers were brilliant.. the beauty still appeals to our eyes thousands of years later.

Hels said...


you are part of the best connected family who ever visited this blog :) Your uncle being a jeweller who gave you pieces with scarabs on them should have explained their significance to King Tut and his generations.

Today we value them jewellery for their bold beauty, bold colours and memories of an ancient civilisation.

CherryPie said...

These are exquisite pieces of art. Dung beetles are amazing creatures.

Hels said...


Amazing yes!! I had NEVER thought about dung beetles until I heard of the ancient jewellery years ago, even though there were plenty around Australia. But then I could immediately see why the Egyptians loved to use their round, shiny bodies in their art treasures.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - when I went to the Saatchi exhibition in October 2020 - it was totally amazing ... I've kept my notes on my blog and am determined not to lose the guide ... also that era is mesmerising ... let alone the workmanship and how much they knew ... your photos are amazing - cheers Hilary

Hels said...


this is the second time tonight I have been envious of my blogging friends' happiness. The Saatchi Exhibition commemorated the 100th anniversary of opening Tutankhamun's tomb, and was a great chance to see the treasures in London. 150 authentic pieces, a huge collection for people who can’t get to Cairo very often.

Then there were other cities that delighted in this exhibition in 2020 (Covid allowing).