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W. M. Flinders Petrie. Scarabs and cylinders with names: illustrated by the Egyptian collection in University College, London (London, 1917)

View Scarabs and Cylinders PDF Online


15. Glazing

16. Stones used

17. Glass and paste

18. Cutting soft materials

19. History of wheel cutting

20. History of point graving


Amethyst12th, 19th (infrequently)
AmberVery rare
Basalt (black)Rare
BerylNot used
Bronze20th (very rare)
Carnelian12th, 18th - 19th (frequently)
Diorite 11th (very rare), 12th (rare)
Durite* 18th, 19th, 22nd, 26th (frequently used heart scarabs, not suitable for smaller scarabs)
EmeraldNot used
Feldspar (green)11th, 12th, 18th, 26th
Feldspar (red)12th, 19th
Glass18th, 19th, 22nd, Roman
Glass (clear blue)18th
Glass (dark blue)19th
Glass (opaque violet)18th
Gold12th (inscribed gold plates on plain scarabs), 18th (rare)
HaematiteVery rare (Syrian)
Jade19th (large heart scarabs)
Jasper (red)19th
Jasper (yellow)18th, 26th
Jasper (green)11th, 12th
Jasper (brown)12th, 26th
Jasper (black)11th, 12th, 18th
HaematiteVery rare (Syrian)
Lapis Lazuli 12th, 18th, 19th, 25th, 26th
Limestone (shelly brown) 10th, 18th
Limestone (various colors)Saite
MalachiteExtremely rare
Obsidian12th (frequent), 19th (rare)
Petrified wood19th (extremely rare)
Pottery (moulded)18th, 19th
Steatite (black)18th - 22nd
Turquoise12th (very rarely for scarabs)
Wood12th (rare)

The table above was not in the original work and was added by Joseph Sermarini.

15. Glazing

The usual material is variously termed stea-schist, fibrous steatite, or schist. It varies in quality from a smooth, translucent steatite to a hard, fibrous schist. All kinds have the valuable property of being superficially hardened by the fusion of a glaze over the surface; thus after the coat of glaze has entirely decomposed and perished, the face of the stone remains glass-hard. The result seems to be due to part of the magnesia of the stone combining with the silica of the glaze, thus changing the surface from soft soapstone to hard magnesia-hornblende. This material is so general for scarabs that it is not specified separately to each in the catalogue; so, where only a colour is named, it means glaze of that colour upon a steatite or schist body.

16. Stones used

Various other materials were occasionally used for scarabs; the dynasties in which I have observed examples are here stated after each material.

Clear quartz crystal is rarely used (xiith, xxvith); white quartz rock is also rare (xith); blue glazing on quartz was made in the prehistoric age and onward, and used for scarabs (in xiith); translucent green quartz is very rare (xxiiird); chalcedony is very rare (xixth) and agate was seldom used (xxvith); amethyst began to be used in xth or xith, but is nearly all of xiith, and rarely of xixth.

Carnelian began to be used in xiith, but is most usual in xviiith and xixth.

Jasper of various colours was employed; red in xixth, yellow in xviiith and xxvith, green in xith, xiith, brown in xiith and xxvith, and black in xith, xiith, xviiith.

Feldspar was usually green, and its source is as yet unknown. It has no relation to beryl or "mother of emerald," with which it is often confused. It was used in xith, xiith, xviiith, xxvith. Red feldspar was used in xiith, xixth. Beryl or emerald is unknown in scarabs, and was only worked after the cessation of scarab making.

Black obsidian was a favourite material for fine work in xiith, but is very rare later (xixth). Diorite is rare (xith, xiith). Peridot occurs once (xviiith). Serpentine was occasionally used, and is mainly late. Black steatite was the usual material for early cylinders, down to the vth dynasty, and sometimes later (xviiith to xxiind). This is the natmral colour of the stone, and is not due to smoke, as has been strangely supposed.

Jade was used for large heart scarabs (xixth), but seldom if ever for small name-scarabs. As the use of this material has been doubted, it should be said that it has been mineralogically identified by all tests, especially specific gravity.

Basalt was rarely used, the brown kind is seen in the cylinder of Khufu. What is usually termed "green basalt" is really a metamorphic volcanic mud, much like slate in composition but not in fracture; as there is no recognised name for it, I have termed it Durite (in Amulets). This is very usual for heart scarabs, but too dull and coarse usually for the more delicate cutting of small scarabs.

Lazuli was known from the prehistoric age, but seldom used for engraving; scarabs and amulets of it occur in xiith, xviiith, xixth, xxvth, and xxvith.

Turquoise is very rare in scarabs, though it was a staple material in jewellery of the xiith dynasty. It has no connection with malachite (which has been confounded with it owing to both occurring in Sinai); of the latter I have only seen one scarab, uninscribed.

Haematite was very rarely used for engraving, probably always under Syrian influence.

Limestones were favourite materials in late times, the hard coloured varieties, green, yellow, red, and brown, appearing in the Saite ages. The pure calcite, or Iceland spar, was far too soft for wear (though called "glass-hard" in a recent work), and it only occurs in a cylinder of Pepy, filled with blue paste, and here (18-9-166) in a large bead of queen Taiy. It was used for beads in xxiind, xxiiird. Shelly brown limestone occurs in about xth dynasty, and xviiith.

Of metals, gold scarabs rarely appear in xviiith, and inscribed gold plates were applied to plain stone scarabs in xiith. Silver appears for scarabs in xiith (scroll patterns), xviiith (silver plate of Akhenaten) and xxvith (Shepenapt). Bronze is very unusual, but there is one here of xxth.

17. Glass and paste

Glass first appears as a light blue imitation of turquoise, used for an uzat of Amenhetep I; after that, clear blue and opaque violet glass scarabs appear in xviiith, and dark blue glass in xixth.

A rich Prussian blue transparent glass was used about xxiiird, and on to Persian times. Glazing was the most usual surface for scarabs, of all colours, as stated in this catalogue throughout. The blue glazes were very liable to fade away to white under the influence of damp; the green glazes, which contain some iron, decompose to brown of varying depth, which is the commonest appearance of scarabs. Coloured paste begins in the xiith as light blue, hard and finely finished. It is darker in xviiith, xixth, and very common as a soft paste in xxvith. A soft yellow paste was also usual in xxvith.

Pottery scarabs were made of the usual siliceous paste, bound together by a coat of glaze; they were incised in the xiith and xxvith, but often moulded in xviiith, xixth. Under Saptah they were made in two moulds, back and face; the groove for the hole was cut, and the two halves joined together, and united in the glazing. Ushabtis were also made in the same way.


Wood is very rare; but there is a large wooden scarab here (12-2-5), a wooden seal (12-5-18), and a delicate scroll-pattern seal of hard wood (all xiith). Fossil wood is once found used for a scarab (xixth?). Amber was rarely used, but two scarabs (u.c.) which are uninscribed will be published with the nameless scarabs.


18. Cutting soft materials

Though the surface of steatite is rendered glass-hard by the action of glaze being fused upon it, the interior of the mass is quite unaltered by the heat to which it has been subjected. On broken scarabs and objects it is found that an ordinary bronze needle of the xviiith dynasty can cut into the steatite freely; on the schist it is more difficult to work, the siliceous particles glint the metal, but yet Hues can be cut with sufficient ease. There is therefore no question about the cutting of all the stea-schist scarabs; bronze in the xviiith dynasty, hardened copper in the earlier ages, and possibly flint splinters, would readily do the work.

The question of the hard stones is quite different. We know certainly that sawng and drilling of granite with copper tools and emery was practised on the largest scale in the ivth dynasty. Copper and emery were famihar materials from prehistoric times, and such would suffice for deaUng with all the materials used for scarabs. The forms of the tools can only be inferred from the results, as no such tools have been found.

19. History of wheel cutting

Nearly half a centiury ago an article on "Antique Gems" in the Edinburgh Review (Oct. 1866), debated when the wheel was first used for gem engraving. The opinion that its work begins to appear under Domitian was questioned, and the evidence of the stork of Dexamenos was quoted in favour of dating the wheel a few centuries earlier. When we here turn to the evidence of Egypt, we see that the question is of thousands, not hundreds, of years.

We may start from the onyx bearing a head of Ptolemy Soter (?), which is clearly cut with the wheel, and we may see it also plainly used under Shabaka on lazuli (25-3-14), as under Amenardas (25-2-6); along with the drill on green quartz (23 -h), wth the ball drill on jasper under Usarken I (22-2-1); on jade heart scarabs {Ab. 20, 21); on large durite heart scarabs (Ab. 7, 8, 9); on jasper of Rameses X (20-8-5); on jasper of Rameses II (19-3-37); on sard of Amenhetep III (18-9-101); on black jasper of Tehutmes IV (18-8-13); on black granite of Tehutmes III (18-6-129); on black jasper of Tetanefer (18-6 B); on carnehan of Hotshepsut (i8-5-io) ; on blue glass of Amenhetep I (18-2-15); on brown jasper of Meny (12 A E); and most brilliantly shown on the earliest example, a private scarab of Onkhy son of Mentuemhot (10 M) in green jasper, probably of the xith dynasty, certainly not later than the xiith.

20. History of point graving

Side by side with this there was the older system of graving with a hard point, and scraping out lines; also sawing out lines with copper edge fed with emery, and grinding holes with a point and emery. Beginning with the earliest, we see the hard point scraper and the emery saw on the crystal of Aha (1-2); the point graver on the diorite of Khosekhemui (2-9). The Khufu cylinder of basalt (4-2-5) shows the use of a hard point graver, and a pecking out of the bases of the hollows; similar pecking can be made on this material with a quartz crystal point, which was therefore probably the tool used. On the chert slab of Assa (5-8-3) a point graver was used, probably fed with emery. The jasper scarabs of the xth dynasty (10 C, 10 G) show a hard point scraper. In the xith dynasty the amethyst scarabs (10 T, U), quartz (10 H), and green felspar (10 L) show a point, with both scraping and graving action. The obsidian scarabs of the xiith dynasty were not cut by the wheel, but by a copper edge-tool fed with emery, and a scraping point, perhaps of rock crystal. The jasper cylinder of Khondy—probably made by a Syrian—shows a point scraper to have been used. When we reach the xviiith dynasty, the point only appears on softer stones, as the limestone pebble of Sataoh (i8-2-55), and the wheel was universal for hard stones. It seems then that the older graver and scraper overlapped the use of the wheel, from the xith to the xivth dynasty; while before that the point alone, and after that the wheel alone, were used on the harder stones.

What mechanical arrangement the Egyptian had for the wheel cutter is not known. Probably it was developed from the bow drill, and would be on a vertical axis worked by a bow.

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