Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Heart Scarab with a Human Head

New Kingdom
1550–1070 B.C.
From Egypt
Basalt, bronze, remains of gold leaf
L. 6.5 × W. 3.9 × H. 2.5 cm (2 9/16 × 1 9/16 × 1 in.)
Credit Line:
Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 127
Heart scarabs were very popular amulets. Positioned on the chest of the mummy, they usually take the shape of a large scarab beetle (which was a symbol of regeneration). Occasionally, the beetle’s head is replaced with that of a human. For the ancient Egyptians the heart was not only the center of life, but also of thinking, memory, and moral values. In the final judgement the heart was thought to be weighed against maat – the principle of order and justice. Only if the deceased had lived a righteous life was he allowed to live on in the afterlife. Understandably, the Egyptians feared a negative outcome and special amulets were used to ensure a positive judgment. The flat underside of a heart scarab is usually inscribed with chapter 30B of the Book of the Dead, the so-called heart scarab spell that magically “prevents the heart from creating opposition” and in which the deceased’s heart is directed not to tell lies about its owner. Here this spell is inscribed in ten horizontal lines; the name of the owner is not included.
The underside of this scarab features two holes, a detail found in other human-headed heart scarabs as well. Presumably these were used to fasten the scarab onto a string. The scarab received an additional, gilded metal rim with a large loop for suspension at the top. This setting take the shape of a heart and may have been added slightly later and covers parts of the hieroglyphs on the underside.
The mount of this human headed scarab is a bronze containing approximately 3% tin.

The spectrum ( was acquired with a Bruker Artax instrument using unfiltered Rh radiation at 50 kV, 700 µA, with a 1 mm collimator for 60 seconds live-time acquisition. Elemental composition of the alloy was calculated using fundamental parameter-based quantification method [1] provided by Bruker. The accuracy of the method was verified against a reference standard of known composition [2].

Deborah Schorsch and Federico Carò 2016

[1] Thomansen, V. 2007. Basic Fundamental Parameters in X-Ray Fluorescence. Spectroscopy, 22(5):46-50.

[2] Heginbotham, A., Basset, J., Bourgarit, D., Glinsman, L., Hook, D., Smith, D., Speakman, R.J., Shugar, A., Van Langh, R., 2015. The Copper CHARM Set: A New Set of Certified Reference Materials for the Standardization of Quantitative X-Ray Fluorescence Analysis of Heritage Copper Alloys. Archaeometry, 57-5: 856-868.
Formerly Theodore M. Davis Collection. Bequeathed to the Museum by Davis, 1915; accessioned, 1930.

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