British Museum

Scarabs, modeled on the dung beetle, were the most popular amulets in dynastic Egypt. This example, probably from Thebes, dates to about 1400 B.C. and measures nearly 3 inches long (compare with next photo). The inscribed lower surface of a scarab bears a text, an official’s name or a decorative symbol.

The dung beetle’s prominence in Egyptian tradition stemmed from the parallel that the Egyptians saw between the beetle and the sun. The beetle’s activity—rolling a ball of dung on the ground and burying it—resembled the rolling of sun across the sky and its burial in the earth at night. In addition, the Egyptians believed that the beetle was self-generating, a parallel to the belief that the sun-god had created himself.