Predynastic, Nagada IIc–d2 (Gerzean) Period
Findspot: Egypt, Naga el-Hai (Qena), tomb K 128
Overall: 1.3 x 0.8 cm (1/2 x 5/16 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.
This group of flat, dark stone amulets were found together in a tomb and are probably elements of the same necklace. Included are a vulture, birds that are likely falcons, and schematic bovine heads with curved horns. Cattle played a prominent role in Predynastic and Early Dynastic religion. One of Egypt’s earliest attested deities was a solar cow goddess, while the bull became a symbol of power directly associated with the king. The vulture would eventually become one of Egypt’s most popular protective symbols. In pharaonic times, vulture goddesses appear flying above the king as he rides in his chariot and enveloping coffins to defend the dead on the dangerous route to eternity. Interestingly, when suspended on a cord, most of these amulets would have hung upside down. It seems, therefore, that the artist meant for them to be viewed from the perspective of the deceased.
From Naga el-Hai (Qena), tomb K 128. 1912–13: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1913: assigned to the MFA by the government of Egypt.
(Accession Date: December 4, 1913)
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition