Fish Amulet

Dynasty 12, ca. 1938-1795 BC
Amethyst
2005.15.2
Gift of Mohamed Farid Khamis and Oriental Weavers

This intricately carved gem would have originally had golden fins and an inlaid eye, probably of garnet. Such amulets were highly prized and the ancient tale of “Khufu and the Magicians” relates the story of a king’s concubine who was inconsolable at dropping her amulet into a lake until a famous wizard was able to part the water and retrieve the amulet.

These amulets would have been worn hanging down from a lock of hair and would have protected the wearer from drowning. The fish represented is a Synodontis, a type of catfish that often swims upside-down at the surface of the water. The ancient Egyptians saw this as a magical ability to stay afloat in the water, and as such it became a powerful charm to keep one from being submerged.