The Egyptians wore amulets alongside other pieces of jewellery. They were decorative, but also served a practical purpose, being considered to bestow power and protection upon the wearer. Many of the amulets have been found inside the wrappings of mummies, as they were used to prepare the deceased for the afterlife.
The heart was considered by the Egyptians to be the most important organ, not because it pumped blood around the body, but because it was the seat of intelligence and the origin of all feelings and actions. The heart became one of the most important of all amulets and was set on the torso of every mummy, deemed to protect the heart of the beholder. Furthermore, the heart acted as the store of an individual’s memory, and so at the judgment ceremony (Weighing of the Heart) in the afterlife, the heart could speak on the behalf of the deceased. As the heart accounted to Osiris for a lifetime of deeds, protection of the organ with an amulet was necessary to ensure that it could give a positive response at judgment.
Recent research on mummies has found that many suffered from atherosclerosis – a build up of fat and calcium in the arteries, which is thought to have been a significant killer in ancient Egypt. Perhaps this amulet suggests ancient awareness of the condition and its connection with the heart, with the wearer desiring the amulet’s appropriate protective powers.
For the Egyptians, gold was the most precious of materials. Its colour signified divinity; it was the metal from which the flesh of the gods was formed; and the Book of the Dead demanded that all amulets be made from it. Egypt is a land rich in gold, and ancient miners used traditional methods to harbour the natural resource. The hieroglyph representing gold was founded in the First Dynasty, but the earliest surviving gold artefacts come from around the 4th Millennium BC.
To find out more about Ancient Egyptian amulets please see our relevant blog post: Egyptian Amulets and their Meanings.