Amara West project blog


Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2013: scarabs – for life and death

Steatite scarab F9167 placed over seal impression F7250Marie Vandenbeusch, Egyptologist, Geneva University

Archaeology does not often produce immediate results, with the understanding of how different buildings, deposits and objects relate to each other being a gradual, often very slow, process. It can be quite exciting when connections are made.

Jars and other large ceramic vessels were often closed with clay stoppers, then stamped with impressions to identify their owner, or the contents. Doorways could also be sealed. In the town at Amara West, we often come across seal-impressions: small nodules of hard clay, bearing the impression of a stamp – or more frequently a difficult-to-read fragment of an impression. The stamps are oval in shape, most frequently the result of a scarab or similar object being pressed into the clay when still wet. And of course, we also come across scarabs in our excavations…

On Friday, as part of processing finds, I was looking at a small seal-impression, which Anna Stevens had discovered in the back room of house E13.7, which we first started working in during the 2011 season, a few days before. I had a strange sense of déjà vu as I looked at the design. Running to the storeroom, I found what I was looking for: F9167, a scarab found in grave 234 within cemetery C.

Steatite scarab F9167 with design impressed upon seal impression F7250

Steatite scarab F9167 with design impressed upon seal impression F7250

Neal Spencer and I spent some time inspecting both scarab and impression, examining small details to confirm they match: a crowned falcon, a winged rearing cobra, and other elements within an area only 1.5 cm long. Other signs are of slightly different dimensions, so we might never be 100% sure. Stamping into wet mud does not always leave a perfect mirror image of the original.

Steatite scarab F9167 placed over seal impression F7250

Steatite scarab F9167 placed over seal impression F7250

Nonetheless, the discovery strongly suggests a close link between the house and the grave, and shows the scarab was not only made for the burial. The impression was found beneath a sealed floor layer in house E13.7, which might allow us to more closely date the burial within Grave 234. It was presumably discarded from nearby, having been used to mark something – a vessel or other container? – as sealed. We can even wonder if the individual buried with the scarab may have lived in the house we now call E13.7… but that’s probably pushing the evidence too far!

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Find out more about the Amara West research project
Read posts from previous excavation seasons at Amara West


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