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A rare Egyptian yellow scaraboid of a hippopotamus, New Kingdom, ca. 1539-1077 B.C.

a simplistic yet rare mustard yellow ceramic scaraboid pierced horizontally for mounting. On the underside, a possible eating or grazing scene is depicted with a well defined hippopotamus, the four legs shown as if in motion, rounded belly, the outstretched neck at a downward angle, the face and mouth with fine detail.

Background: for the Egyptians, the male hippopotamus was always a creature of evil intent, whether trampling down the riverside crops or overturning boats and mutilating the corpses of the drowned with its ivory teeth. It soon came to be considered the earthly manifestation of Seth, the unpredictable god of desert and storms, murderer of Osiris and later still, evil incarnate.

Yet a whole genre of hippopotamus images exist dating to the Middle Kingdom (c. 1800 BC) depicting the creature placidly grazing, its body often a riot of marsh plants and vegetation, recreating its watery environment. These show the hippopotamus as a creative force, an essential element of the watery chaos in which all creation began. Even earlier three dimensional representations of the beast may have had apotropaic imagery, to ward it off by its very depiction.   Or, quite the opposite, they may have been intended to ensure its capture through magic by its depiction, at one stroke removing a dangerous animal and providing a source of meat, skin, fat and ivory. That such very early images represent the god Seth, is highly improbable.

Condition:  Minor chips and loss to the top and base of the scarab otherwise intact and in good condition overall.

Dimensions:  Length: 0.66 inch (1.68 cm).

Provenance:  Private NY collection, thereafter on loan to the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, Atlanta, GA, between 1998 - 2015, loan number: L 1998.62.93

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