ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian bestiary: Dung beetles
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Dung beetles

Bubas bubalus     Africa is home to a number of dung beetle species. They perform a vital ecological task by recycling the dung of herbivores.

Bubas bubalus, a scarabaeine dung beetle
Copper alloy, found at Saqqara
Source: EES

    Egypt was never populated by large herds of wild herbivores such as can still be found on the east African plains. Therefore the numbers of dung beetles were much lower, and yet this humble insect caught the eye of the Egyptians.
 
Scarab, Source: Excerpt, 'Ancient Egypt', Time-Life Books     The dung-beetle because of its 'miraculous' emergence from the ground was associated and identified with the self-created Atem as Khepri. As morning sun he rose from the underworld, born from the womb (the eastern horizon) of his heavenly mother Nut, and moved across the sky and set in the evening behind the horizon, just as the scarab moved its dung ball across the earth and made it disappear into the ground.

Scarab amulet bearing the inscription Nefer Kheper-ka-re.
The Kheper sign at the centre is the scarab hieroglyph
Middle Kingdom
Source: Petrie Museum website

    Huge numbers of scarab amulets were produced and spread over the whole of the Middle East. They served as protective amulets and were used to seal things.
 

 
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