Embalming plaque of wax

From Egypt
After 1000 BC

Decorated with a protective wedjat eye

Ancient Egyptian embalmers would remove the internal organs of a body about to be mummified through an incision in the left side of the abdomen. According to the historian Herodotus, (about 485-425 BC) this was traditionally done with a flint or obsidian knife. The later Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (died about 20 BC) adds that the man who made the incision would then flee the embalming tent, being cursed and stoned by his workmates for defiling the body.

Once the body had been dried, using salt or natron, the wound was closed and a plaque of wax or gold bearing a wedjat eye was placed over it, held in position by molten resin. The wedjat eye symbolized the left eye of Horus which was plucked out by Seth during a conflict over the throne. It was magically restored by the gods, and was regarded as a powerful protective amulet.

The wedjat eye was thought to heal the wound by magic and protect the body from demons, who might try to enter it through the incision. The plaque was often made of gold, which does not tarnish, thus the protection was believed to last forever. Wax also had protective associations for the ancient Egyptians, and was also used for figures of enemies or demons which were ritually destroyed.

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More information

Bibliography

C.A.R. Andrews, Amulets of Ancient Egypt (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)

Dimensions

Length: 10.200 cm
Width: 8.200 cm

Museum number

EA 15572

YCA63307

Gift of Major-General Augustus Meyrick

Location

Find in the collection online



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