Archaeologists have learned about ancient Egyptian culture through the excavation of tombs. Among the discovered artifacts are objects that Egyptians used in their everyday lives, such as jewelry. Although they wore relatively plain clothing, Egyptians adorned themselves with ornate jewelry pieces. Everyone owned jewelry in ancient Egypt, regardless of class or gender. These ornaments included lucky charms, beaded necklaces, heart scarabs, bracelets and rings. Rich Egyptians like pharaohs and queens had jewelry made from gems, precious metals, colored glass and minerals. Others wore less refined adornments made from clay, rocks, animal teeth, bones and shells.
Ancient Egyptians believed strongly in the spiritual significance of jewelry. They wore it to protect their health, ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. Certain raw materials, designs and colors were associated with deities or symbolized supernatural powers. For example, carnelian, an orange-red stone, was a color suggestive of blood and therefore gave energy and potency to the ornament. Jewelers in ancient Egypt followed strict rules concerning the mystical aspects of their creations. They incorporated minerals into jewelry which conferred a symbolic meaning, such as amethyst, garnet, lapis lazuli, onyx and turquoise. They also used highly prized metals like gold, silver and copper.
Because ancient Egyptians were superstitious, a popular piece of jewelry was the amulet or lucky charm. Egyptians thought that amulets bestowed good fortune, as well as protective and healing powers. Amulets often represented deities, sacred animals, body parts, hieroglyphic symbols or emblems. Egyptians wore or carried amulets in the form of pendants, bracelets, rings, anklets and figurines. In particular, amulets offered protection over the dead. Amulets were placed inside a mummy's wrappings to safeguard the deceased's journey and ensure a happy, healthy and fruitful afterlife.
A common type of funerary amulet was the heart scarab. Occasionally heart-shaped but often oval or beetle-shaped, a heart scarab was placed over the heart before burial. Ancient Egyptians believed that it counteracted the heart being separated from the body after death. In Egyptian mythology, the human heart chronicled all actions in a person's life. The dead awaited judgment in the Weighing of the Heart Ceremony performed by the god Anubis. A balanced scale meant salvation and entry into the afterlife. Script from the Book of the Dead was typically carved onto the base of a heart scarab.
Ancient Egyptians wore beaded necklaces just as many people do today. Sometimes these necklaces featured charms or amulets interspersed with beads. Egyptians made beads in various shapes and sizes from semi-precious stones, metals, minerals, glass, painted clay and other materials. In 1911, archaeologists found a set of unusual beads in an Egyptian boy's tomb, suspecting that they were composed of iron from a meteorite. Using 21st century technology, scientists have confirmed those suspicions. The meteoric beads were strung on a necklace along with gold baubles and gemstones.