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String of beads with amulets in gold and semi-precious stones


Diameter: 44.000 cm (exterior)

Acquired in 1835 at the sale of the Salt Collection

EA 3077

Ancient Egypt and Sudan

    String of beads with amulets in gold and semi-precious stones

    Said to be from Thebes, Egypt
    Middle Kingdom, 1991-1750 BC

    Charms for everlasting life, pregnancy and against drowning

    The amulets strung together here were probably originally from several different strings. Their current arrangement probably reflects the tastes of the nineteenth century AD when acquired by the British Museum) rather than the nineteenth century BC, around which time it is thought that they were made.

    The string now consists of a number of gold and electrum amulets separated by beads made of carnelian, amethyst, lapis lazuli, green feldspar and electrum. In the centre of the string is a gold lotus pendant inlaid with polychrome glass and carnelian, attached to a gold heh amulet (a seated god with arms raised holding year signs; a composite hieroglyph meaning 'millions of years'). The gold amulets represent cowrie shells, fish and beards or sidelocks of hair. Cowrie shells were worn by women as part of a girdle. The girdle was intended to protect the woman, particularly if she were pregnant. Among the amulets are symbols of new and everlasting life, such as the lotus and the heh amulet. The fish amulet may be a charm against drowning.

    J. Ogden, Jewellery of the ancient world (London, Trefoil Books, 1982)

    E.R. Russmann, Eternal Egypt: masterworks of (University of California Press, 2001)

    C.A.R. Andrews, Catalogue of Egyptian antiqu-5 (London, The British Museum Press, 1981)

    J. Bourriau, Pharaohs and mortals: Egyptian (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 1988)


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