Egyptian Scarab, amulet
1630 BCE-1523 BCE
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Base with geometric motif, meaning unknown, possibly Dynasty 15.
In the First World War, many servicemen saw duty in foreign lands, collecting ancient items of material culture and sending these back to loved ones back home.
In 1914 many thousands of men left Australia for Egypt, encountering landscapes and material culture completely unfamiliar to them. Men were trained in warfare at Mena Army Camp – against a surreal backdrop of ancient pyramids and the Sphinx. When not training, the men spent their spare time in local towns and at Cairo, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of an exotic eastern city. The men enjoyed sightseeing, climbing the pyramids, exploring temples, and acquired Egyptian ‘curios’ (in the parlance of the era -rare, unusual, intriguing objects) for themselves, at the request of friends and relatives, or as gifts for family – what would become the ‘bric-a-brac’ of war.
For the amateur soldier-archaeologist there were many opportunities to secure Egyptian antiquities. A short horse ride with a local guide to a rich gravesite, would secure a dozen scarabs after a few minutes of digging. Curios could be purchased from street sellers, authentic antiquities dug up from the desert sands, or faux objects ‘inspired’ by authentic pieces, such as large scarab paperweights.
Selling replicas as genuine antiquities has been big-business in Egypt for hundreds of years. At the start of the war the trade in Egyptian fake antiquities was large, and proved a decent money earner for street sellers in Egypt. The number of soldiers travelling through or training in Egypt would have been an absolute boon for the souvenir sellers, including those selling ‘genuine’ antiquities and faux objects ‘inspired’ by the genuine antiquities, such as this object.