The Significance of Carnelian in Ancient Egyptian Culture

Ancient Egyptian Jewellery

Amongst Ancient Egyptian jewellery the most common material is faience. It was used, in a variety of colours, largely to imitate more expensive stones and materials. It was cheap to produce and thus was used by lower classes to emulate the same qualities more expensive materials had. It is important to note that imitation was acceptable as it was largely the colour of beads and amulets that was significant. By emulating materials such as lapis lazuli, feldspar, turquoise and jasper with faience, the lower classes could still appease their gods.

Semi-precious stones, gold and silver were materials reserved for the elite and royalty. The costly lapis lazuli was used, for example, on the death mask of Tutankhamun for his eyes and beard. The vivid green stone of Feldspar was used to decorate ankle bracelets belonging to Amenemhat III. The exclusive use of such stones was largely related to them being a costly import, as they were not sourced locally within Egypt. Lapis lazuli was imported from Afghanistan, Feldspar from the Eastern Desert and turquoise came from Sinai. Thus they were reserved for royalty and those that could afford them.

Carnelian and its frequent use

Carnelian, however, is a semi-precious stone that was used frequently by the Egyptians of all social classes, through Dynastic Egypt till the Roman period. Sources mention of one mine, found in Egypt, which would have supplied carnelian from the Middle Kingdom. However, the source of the gemstone before this is relatively unknown. What is known is that it was used abundantly for amulets, beads, small figurines and inlay works and it was prized despite its ample use. It would seem that carnelian was valued for its connotations rather than its scarcity.

The significance and meaning behind carnelian

Carnelian was often paired together with Lapis Lazuli and turquoise from the 4th Dynasty but, unlike the other two gemstones, was neither an expensive commodity nor a rarity. And where the other two semi-precious stones were frequently replaced with cheaper alternatives, carnelian usually was not. The importance of pairing these three stones together was ultimately connected to their symbolism as a trio. Referring to Ancient Egyptian texts, carnelian, because of its fiery colour, was often associated with the blood-lust and rage of Egyptian deities. Furthermore, carnelian was also closely connected to the sun god, Re. It was a stone used often in jewellery for sun disks and to represent the eye of Horus. In Egyptian mythology the right side of Horus’ eye represented the sun. It would seem that the importance of carnelian lays in its relation to the solar cult and the importance of its respective god

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By Francesca,

  Filed under: Ancient Egypt, Imagery & Symbolism   Tags: , , , ,
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