Amulet in the form of an animal
Naqada II, 3650–3300 B.C.
Findspot: Egypt, Mesaid (Mesa'eed), Tomb 179
Height x length: 1.8 x 2.6 cm (11/16 x 1 in.)
Medium or Technique
Egypt: Pre-Dynastic and Dynastic (Gallery 105A)
The Egyptians wore amulets both as jewelry and as protective devices to avert the many threats they faced in daily existence, such as illness, injury, and attack by an animal. Although the repertoire of amulets increased in scope as time progressed, a considerable variety was available even in the Predynastic era. Animals were favorite subjects. Representations of fierce and dangerous creatures may have been intended to defend against hostile forces or to impart to the wearer their strength, speed, and agility. Some animals, such as cattle and falcons, may already have represented deities, as they would later.
Often carved in hard stone, early animal amulets tend to be highly stylized and can sometimes be difficult to identify with certainty. This endearing quadruped of bright red carnelian with an inlaid eye may be a pig or a hippopotamus. The latter is perhaps more likely, because hippopotami are featured in contemporary slate palettes and on painted pottery. Pigs are uncommon in Egyptian art, although Predynastic figurines of both hippopotami and pigs have survived. The animals were known for their aggressiveness, and would later be symbols of chaotic forces that threatened Egypt. The creator of this large amulet may have chosen the creature so that its ferocious temperament could avert such forces. The inlay technique used for the eye resembles that of contemporary stone palettes.
Interestingly, when suspended on a cord, most of this amulet would have hung upside down. It seems, therefore, that the artist meant for it to be viewed from the perspective of the deceased.
From Mesaid (Mesa'eed) tomb 179 [M/179]. 1910: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA by the government of Egypt.
(Accession Date: March 2, 1911)
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition