One of the topics that caught my eye in this week’s readings was the change that occurred culturally during the late First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom of the material culture in Egypt. This change was seen by the increase of divine imagery such as magical amulets and magical wands or “knives.”. Since the predynastic period, amulets have been a part of the material culture in ancient Egypt. However, there was a significant increase in their use in the Middle Kingdom. The designs of the amulets are inspired by many Egyptian myths and traditions including the most recognizable scarab amulet. This unique amulet is a replica of a scarab beetle that is associated with the solar cycle and is a symbol for the rebirth of the sun god. Since we know that the ancient Egyptians were very spiritual people, this symbol for renewing cosmic powers is relative to their beliefs in the afterlife and reincarnation.
I have seen pictures of scarab amulets before but I was not aware of the religious and cultural aspects they are connected to in Egypt. What really intrigued me about these amulets though was the fact that they are found to be associated with all levels of society and not just the pharaohs and the elite. Especially since during the Middle Kingdom, the scarab amulet was adapted for the use of an administrative seal with the base having inscribed names and titles of officials. The reading summarized these amulets perfectly saying, “Its use as an administrative tool brilliantly merged popular religious practice with the structured daily activities of the Middle Kingdom bureaucracy” (Wegner, 2010).
Another feature of the change in the material culture of ancient Egypt in the Middle Kingdom was the substantial amount of magical wands found mostly in the tombs. The wands made from ivory have divine beings illustrated on them and like the scarab amulet are involved in the myths associated with the solar cycle. It has been found that these wands are mostly used during childbirth and the early lives of newborns and appear to use magic to transfer protection from the sun god to these human experiences. This is very interesting as most people don’t think to learn about the different aspects of childbirth of ancient civilizations even though it is necessary to keep humanity thriving. The use of magical wands is fascinating and makes me wonder how they used one to ensure the protection of their young and the process involved as well.
Wegner, Josef (2010). Tradition and Innovation: The Middle Kingdom. In Willeke Wendrich (Ed.), Egyptian Archaeology (pp. 119-142) Oxford: Blackwell Publishing