Bringer of the Sun
The history of the use of the scarab beetle as a symbol is a very long one. This little creature populated cities on the banks of the Nile River, and so it was natural that it caught the attention of the Ancient Egpytians, who took its behaviour as an allegory for natural processes.
The scarab itself is also commonly known by a less romantic name, as the dung beetle. It takes animal droppings, and rolls them along the ground, until they form into balls. It has a heavy little body in comparison to other insects, and three antennae that form a club at the front of its face, which looks a bit like a rhinoceros horn. They use the daggers on their front legs to dig in dirt or dung, then roll it away from the pile so that other beetles can't grab it away from them.
The Ancient Egyptians noticed that the little beasts would emerge from below ground at around dawn, and start their industrious activity. After rolling the ball throughout the day, they would then bury it, and themselves, overnight. This behaviour, and the way that the shape of the ball coincided with the sun, gave Egyptians the basis for their representation of the scarab as the Sun God, Re.
This was furthered by the fact that they noticed scarabs climbing on top of their balls to perform a sort of dance, which, it was decided, must be in reverence of the sun. Modern-day science tells us, rather that the scarab is climbing on top of its ball to orient itself. In either case, it is a very clever beetle!
You can see it doing just that, here:
Image: Emily Lund
The beetle also became associated with the God, Khepri, who was believed by the Ancient Egyptians to roll the sun through the underworld at night, and bring it back to the horizon at dawn the following day.
While scarabs appear in many Eyptian paintings, jewels, and personal seals, the very first known use of the scarab in human design was as a carved lid to an alabaster box, early in the first dynasty of Egyptian Pharaonic rule, circa 3,000 B.C.E.
Pictured below are scarabs that are part of the Met's collection, created in 1981-1802 B.C.E., twelve dynasties later.
The large scarab on the left is known as a Heart Scarab. Heart Scarabs may have been used for jewellery, but were commonly associated with a memorial for the dead. The Egyptians believed that once a person passed away their heart was weighed by the Goddess of Justice, Truth and Order, to judge their worthiness to pass into the afterlife. This belief was inscribed in Chapter 30 of the Book of the Dead, and a typical heart scarab carries this chapter, written on its rear:
The symbol was so significant that it was also commonly used in jewellery, or as an additional amulet left at gravesites, along with the Wedjat Eye. It was believed that it would keep the deceased eternally young in the afterlife, and that the more amulets were provided the better protected they would be.
This scarab, found at Hatshepsut's tomb during a dig that took place between 1926-27, is inscribed with the words: Hatshepsut united with Amun. In other words, the great female pharaoh, rejoined with the god of sun and air. It is one of 299 scarabs and seals that were found in her tomb, each one referring to Hatshepsut's different names, from "daughter of the king" - created during her father's reign, to references to her titles during her own time as queen.
Cleopatra's Bling designs often reference the scarab as a symbolic bringer of a new day, and representation of life. Notably the Khepri Ring in Chapter 4's component of the Desert Rose collection is inspired by the scarab seal rings of old, with a bold twist embodied by the dashing red resin used to mold the khepri.
Learn more about the Khepri Ring, and see further images, here:
Gold-plated and sterling silver rings, topped with a red resin scarab beetle, in the manner of Egyptian seal rings.