The Tutankhamun Exhibit
Jewelry and Ornamentation
A problem that must have perplexed the Egyptians in remote antiquity was how the sun traveled across the sky each day. In prehistoric times the sun-cult had been adopted by a number of the scattered communities settled along the banks of the Nile, and different ideas had evolved to account for the daily phenomenon. After the unification of the country under one ruler - an event that marked both the beginning of the historical period and the foundation of the First Dynasty in about 3100 B.C. - the ideas conceived by the priests of the solar cult at Heliopolis began to gain wider recognition. Not many centuries later, the Heliopolitan creed became the state religion. In reaching that position it had not required the suppression of other cults, but it had absorbed some of their beliefs and conceptions and, in particular, some of the ideas that had been developed by other solar cults. These extraneous ideas were not allowed to supersede or supplant those that already existed in their creed; they merely supplemented them, even though they were sometimes difficult to reconcile with them. Such was the case with their ideas about the passage of the sun across the sky.
According to one school of thought, the sun-god, when he emerged each morning from the underworld, entered his bark "of millions of years" and, accompanied by his divine retinue, ferried across the sky until he reached the western horizon and re-entered the underworld. A more picturesque explanation of the daily crossing represented the power that propelled the sun as a large scarab beetle, the concept having been suggested by the common spectacle of the scarab pushing its ball of dung along the ground. Yet another explanation arose from the fact that, apart from the celestial bodies, the only creatures that could support themselves in the air were those provided with wings, in particular birds. A sun-god who was worshipped in many localities was called Horus, a name that means "Lofty". From very early times he was thought to be a falcon, probably because of its habit of flying high in the air. When he was identified with Ra, the sun-god of Heliopolis, he became a composite god named Ra-Harakhty, but retained his falcon form. It is in that form that the sun-god is represented on his pectoral. The materials used in the inlay are lapis lazuli, turquoise, carnelian, and light blue glass, with perhaps obsidian for the eye. On the underside, which has four rings for suspension chains, the details of the bird are chased in the surface of the gold. Held in each talon are the signs for life and infinity.