Monkey Power

Amulets are among the most prolific artifacts found at ancient archaeological sites – often in burials.  These were personal ornaments – meant to be worn or carried.  Ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian texts document the belief that amulets possessed  supernatural power, mainly to protect against evil and misfortune.  Most amulets were shaped like various animals, plants, celestial bodies and inanimate objects, but could also be natural objects such as shells, or even plant material.  Mediums varied, and included stone, ivory, alabaster, gold, silver, bone, shell and glass, as well as semi-precious stones.  Most popular was “faience”, or more correctly, glazed composition, which allowed the modelling or moulding of any shape.

Animal amulets found in Mesopotamia and Egypt include examples of primates, and many date from earliest Antiquity.  Baboons, and in Egypt, vervet monkeys, are shown standing or crouching – most often the latter pose.  Such amulets are found in numerous museums.  Four examples are especially notable.  A very early charm in the Liverpool World Museum, UK, represents a squatting baboon made of glazed composition, from modern Hierakonpolis, Upper Egypt, dating from c. 3000 – 2686 BCE.  From the same museum, an unusual amulet depicts a seated ape eating fruit.  Made from carved limestone, this object comes from Amarna, south of Cairo, and dates from c. 1352 – 1336 BCE.  A third example is found in the University of Pennsylvania Archaeological Museum in Philadelphia, US.  Representing a squatting monkey, the object is made of shell and was found in a suburb of ancient Ur, a 3rd millennium Sumerian city, modern southern Iraq.  The object – a pendant – has a hole to accommodate a chain or cord.  Finally, a monkey amulet from Egypt, carved from amethyst, and dating from c. 1985 – 1795 BCE, is found in the Brighton Museum collection, Brighton, England.  These objects can be seen on the websites of the museums mentioned – many more are found in other museums, worldwide.


See also:  Amulets, Flinders Petrie, Read Books, Ltd., 2011.

UCL Collection, London.