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26A: A Large Inscribed Egyptian Heart Scarab Published!

Lot 26A View Catalog

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This is a large heart scarab made of a dark greenish stone, possibly schist, engraved on the base with 10 lines of hieroglyphic text containing spell 30B of the Book of the Dead. The inscription was done in a somewhat crudely way (as is the case with the majority of these scarabs, because of the difficulties of writing small signs in a hard stone) but is perfectly readable and copies the text of the spell accurately, only omitting a few words near the end of the spell due to lack of space.

Interestingly, the top line appears to be in a different handwriting, possibly indicating that the scarab was made in advance, before a buyer was found, leaving the first line empty to be filled in later. This practice was not uncommon. There was too much space in the first line for the rather short name, so that the scribe had to spread the signs in the available space. The name of the owner can be read in two ways: either he was called Wesir-nakht (meaning “Osiris is strong”) or his name was just Nakht (“He who is strong”), preceded by the epithet “the Orisis” as was quite common on funerary objects.

The text on the scarab reads: The Osiris Nakht. O, my heart of my mother – twice – o, my heart of my transformations, do not stand against me as witness, do not oppose me in the divine tribunal, do not show any enmity against me in the presence of the keeper of the balance. You are my ka (often incorrectly translated as “soul”), which was in my body, Khnum who made my members prosper. (May you go forth) to the beautiful place which has been allotted to us there. Do not make my name stink to the Entourage (… part of the spell omitted …) you, may you be in peace (?) so that you will exist.

Background information: Texts are known from the Old Kingdom which speak of giving a (replacement) heart (possibly of stone) to the deceased, but since the heart was usually left in the body during mummification this extra heart did not really have a purpose. During the First Intermediate Period notions appeared about the judgement of the dead, during which the heart had an important role to play (weighing the heart stood for determining that the owner had lived according to the cosmic order and truth or Maat); to control the outcome a text was devised which later became spell 30B of the Book of the Dead. This text was written on a heart of stone which now was no longer a replacement heart but just carried the text. Soon afterwards some of these hearts received a depiction of a scarab on one side, and in the 17th dynasty at the latest the object took the shape of a scarab.

Several reasons have been given by Egyptologists for the association of the heart with a scarab, for example that the animal was a symbol of renewal and rebirth. Malaise has pointed out that the heart on the scales, once shown righteous, became a reborn heart which had new life; by giving it the shape of a scarab one anticipated the result of the judgement and by doing so more or less enforced the outcome. The heart is also summoned to authorize transformations (in Egyptian kheperu, a word closely related to the word for scarab); the god Khepri (the reborn morning sun) was considered to be a scarab, often appearing as a form of Osiris, whereas the heart of the deceased was assimilated to that of Osiris or Re; and lastly the back of a scarab shows similarities to the anatomical shape of a heart.

According to the rubric of the spell the heart scarab had to be made of a stone called nemhef which most likely was green jasper, green being the colour of vegetation, youth and health but more importantly also of resurrection. The Egyptians also made heart scarabs of other kinds of stone, often dark green but also black (that colour also being a metaphor for resurrection).

Dimensions: Rather large scarab: 8.1 x 5.2 cm.

Dating: Late New Kingdom – Late Period, but probably not later than the 26th dynasty after which the heart scarab became scarce, and most of the existing ones were without any text, according to Malaise.

Published: Antiqua. Ancient Art & Numismatics Catalogue III (Woodland Hills, California, n.d.) p. 37-38, 43, no. A6.

Provenance: Private German collection G.M., acquired in 1997; previously Antiqua Inc., California; previously Christie's New York 1994-95.

Literature: Michel Malaise, Les scarabées de coeur dans l’Égypte ancienne, avec un appendice sur les scarabées de coeur des Musées Royaux d' Art et d’Histoire de Bruxelles (Monographies Reine Elisabeth, 4). Bruxelles, 1978. For the name Wesir-nakht see Hermann Ranke, Die ägyptischen Personennamen (3 volumes, Glückstadt - Hamburg, 1935-1976), Volume I, p. 85, no. 1; for the name Nakht ibid., p. 209, no. 16.

Inscribed heart scarabs are rare on the market, especially of this size and quality!

there is a reserve on this lot


In excellent condition, with a few minor scratches, a very tiny chip on the rim of the back and a few very small spots on the back (about one millimetre), possibly caused by small drops of some liquid. Fine detailed engraving and quite large.
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Estimate $16,000 – $18,000
Starting Bid $9,500
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8:00 AM - Feb 12, 2011
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