The ancient Egyptians buried their mummies with a wide variety of amulets. These were designed to help them travel safely to the afterlife and keep them safe through eternity. Here are a few of them:
The scarab, or dung beetle, was sacred to the ancient Egyptians. To them, it symbolized strength and resurrection. Scarabs made of stone, clay, or glass paste were worn by the living as well as the dead.
Ancient Egyptian deities are often depicted carrying an ankh in one hand, symbolizing their power over life. The ankh hieroglyph meant "life," and the amulet was intended to give the dead person eternal life in the next world. After the scarab, the ankh is the most commonly used amulet in ancient Egypt.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the ab, a person's heart--rather than the brain--contained his soul and personality. Without a heart, it was impossible to be reborn into the afterlife. The heart amulet was placed on (or inside) a mummy's chest to ensure a successful resurrection. It was usually made of red stone, although other colors have been found.
The wadjet, or Eye of Horus, was worn by the living as well as the dead. Believed to give health and strength and to ward off evil, it was placed on the mummy's side to cover the incision that was made to remove the organs. Sometimes, it was stamped on a thin sheet of gold. The wadjet was also used to adorn jewelry and to decorate a wide range of objects.
The djed, or pillar, symbolized the backbone of Osiris. In Egyptian myth, Osiris was killed by his brother Seth, and restored to life by the magic of his wife Isis. The amulet of the pillar, made of wood covered in gold, gave the dead person the strength of Osiris, to be restored to life in the next world. It was placed at the mummy's neck.
The tet, or buckle amulet, was placed at the mummy's neck, just as the djed was. Made of red stone or red glass, it was a symbol of Isis, the mother goddess. By putting the amulet on the mummy, the ancient Egyptians hoped that the goddess would protect the dead person with her magical power.
The urs, or head rest amulet, was made of hematite (an iron ore). It was placed at the back of the mummy's neck--exactly where the person, when alive, would have placed his head on the traditional head rest. (The Egyptians did not use pillows.) The amulet was supposed to protect the mummy's head until the dead person was resurrected in the afterlife.
The usekh, or collar amulet, was a miniature version of the great jeweled collars worn by wealthy Egyptians. Made of gold, it was placed at the mummy's neck. Golden collars were also painted on the outside of many mummy cases. The amulet was thought to help the dead person emerge from the mummy wrappings when the time came for resurrection.
An amulet is an object worn as a charm to bring good luck or protect against evil.
Graeme Davis is an archaeologist, freelance writer, and game designer living in Colorado.