Scarab - Dung Beetle

Dung Beetles can be found in many parts of the world, though we tend to identify them with ancient Egypt.

Dung beetles belong to the family Scarabaeidae and are also known as scarabs. They are scavengers, which feed on dung and other decaying organic matter, and play an invaluable role in keeping the veld clean. The ancient Egyptians revered them as a symbol of renewed life.

They are small to large, usually stout-bodied, and are easily recognized by the 3 to 7 segmented fan-like antennal club. Their legs are powerful, particularly the front legs, which are armed with teeth on the outer edge. In some species the legs are adapted to rolling balls of dung to a suitable soft spot, and for digging holes in which the dung is buried. The buried dung serves as a source of food for adult beetles, and also for the larvae when they hatch from eggs laid on the dung-balls.

The larvae, also called 'white grubs', are greyish-white to bluish-white in color, C-shaped, and also feed on decaying organic matter, such as tree stumps, and the roots of plants.

All dung beetles are scarabs, but not all scarabs are dung beeties. For instance, the protea beetle (Trichostetha fascicularis) gathers nectar from various species of proteas.

Planet of the Insects

Metaphysics - Mythology

A dung beetle called 'Aksak' was supposed to have made the first woman and man on Earth from clay.

In ancient China, a Taoist text quotes "the Scarab rolls its pellet, and life is born in it as an effect nondispersed work spiritual concentration."

The Phoenicians lived in the area which we now call Lebanon. Egyptians influences on the Phoenician culture, brought the scarab into their art. The first scarab from Phoenicia was made in the 8th century BC (approximately the 23rd dynasty). As the Phoenicians themselves were clever traders and posessed several colonies, they spread the scarab throughout the Mediterranean, bringing it to all major ports along their trade routes. The Greeks started using the scarab as well, and as a result, the scarab made it onto mainland Europe, into areas where the dung beetle had never lived.

The Greeks settled in Etruria in the mid-sixth century BC. They soon started to influence the Etruscans (the native civilisation of Etruria). The Greeks taught them how to make scarabs, but the Etruscans did not use the scarab as a seal. Instead they used them for ornamentation in everyday life.

The Greeks used onyx, agate, and quartz in making their scarabs. These materials were not used in Egypt until the Ptolemaic period, when Greek influence on Egyptian life was at a peak. The Greeks also had more advanced technology (in some areas) and could therefore work hard materials with greater ease than the Egyptians could.

As the scarab traveled throughout Europe and Asia by trade, war and politics, its purpose changed. Originally used as a symbol for birth and rebirth, it quickly evolved to becoming an amulet for protective purposes (used in many completely different religions), a seal for officials and later only for decorative purposes.

Ancient Egypt

The scarab beetle was the symbol of Spontaneous Generation, New Life, and Resurrection.

The dung-beetle placed its egg in dung and rolled the dung into a ball to be heated by the sun. This created an association with the life-giving powers of the sun and the sun god Ra.

Life also was centered in the heart so the dung-beetle amulet had powers to protect the heart.

Scarabs were used to inscribe prayers to be placed on mummies for protection against evil.

The scarab image was used for recording historical events. Scarabs were also used as seals by officials. The writing would be inscribed on the base (flat side) of the scarab; sizes varied from several centimeters to several meters long.

During the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep III reign scarabs were made extra large - up to 2.5 metres long in the Karnak Temple.

Scarab beetles appeared in Egyptian heiroglyphs.

The dung beetle is painted in the red orb. It identifies
the seated figure as the god of the morning sun, Khepri.

The hieroglyphs to the right of the seated figure;
they also identify him as Atum, the evening sun.

The painted symbol of the dung beetle and the inscription
tell us the figure represents the sun god that rises in the
east and sets in the west.

The mummy of the Priestess Nesykhonsu standing to the left
of the sun god. This painting is from the inside of her coffin.

The Priest at the right makes offerings to the sun god.


Amulets were believed to endow the wearer with the characteristics depicted in the art.

Scarab beetle amulets portrayed the beetle's persistence in rolling a dung ball and the reemergence of the beetle from its hole in the ground.

Ancient Egyptians believed in the power of amulets and other charms to protect themselves from evil forces and to bring them good fortune.

Scarabs were made from a wide variety of materials such as carnelian, lapis lazuli, basalt, limestone, schist, turquoise, ivory, resin, steatite, and bronze. Most scarabs were made of steatite which was then covered with a turquoise coloured glaze. The stone was soft and easy to work, but when glazed, it became hard and durable.

In the 12th dynasty, amethyst was used for the first time (a very hard material). Gold and silver scarabs have also been found, but are much rarer, because of grave robbers.

In death, the scarab protected the deceased person's soul from being eaten by Ammit the Devourer - a dreadful part-lion, part-hippo, part-crocodile who guarded scales of justice in the Egyptian afterworld. Heart scarabs - or mummified beetles, were placed next to the heart after the body was mummified. they heart was the 'place of the soul'.

The scarabs were usually made of green stone, and could range in size from 3 to 10 cm. Heart scarabs were always made of some green material, usually green jasper. This stone is quite rare and difficult to cut, so in many cases other types of rock were used as substitutes, for example green feldspar, basalt, and serpentine. The reason why green was used was that it symbolised resurrection and health, green is the color of the heart chakra.

Most of the scarabs were inscribed - chapter 30B from the Book of the Dead. In this chapter, the dead person asks his heart not to testify against him during the Weighing of The Heart Ceremony (whether he has commited a sin or not). In other cases, heart scarabs were used for just general protection from evil during the journey to the Afterlife.

Today, people continue to look to wear this ancient symbol.

Scarab amulets can be worn near the heart or displayed in many other
ways to continue their 4,000-plus year history of bringing good luck.