A Pectoral of Tutankhamun with Lunar & Solar Emblems – by Professor Earl L Ertman


Earl L. Ertman

Several writers have discussed the jewelry found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun 1 as well as the pectoral under review that was found in a chest in the tomb’s Treasury. Among the treasures from this tomb are a variety of rings and pectorals. One of the many beautiful pectoral examples illustrates both solar and lunar symbolism. (Cairo Museum no. 61884 ).2 (pl. I ) The design of this piece is rather crowded when compared to surviving examples from the Middle Kingdom in which the ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ areas are more balanced.Thc craftsman who fashioned this piece was interested in including the appropriate symbolism and not producing a balanced and effective design that modern viewers might favor.

Many times elements coalesce in Egyptian art and that occurs here also with symbols of the sun god (the scarab and the falcon) combining to create the hybrid form of a scarab with beetle forelegs and falcon wings, tail and rear legs. Two uraei wearing sun disks are placed frontally on the bark of the moon, above the outstretched forelegs of the scarab. These are common elements found in many of Tutankhamen’s individual pieces of jewelry. Another pair of uraei, this time placed in profile in the design, flanking the falcon legs which hold plants of Upper and Lower Egypt are also common elements seen in this king’s objects. These four uraei have their inlays formed in the champlevé manner with areas hollowed out (recessed) in which the colored inlays of glass or stone are placed.

Writers commenting on the central scarab call it chalcedony. More recent analysis suggests that the material of this beetle is actually Libyan Desert glass formed from a meteorite impact in the desert. 4   Elsewhere on this object the feathers that cover the wings and tail of this hybrid scarab/falcon are formed with gold cloisonné’s, small strips of metal soldered to the flat surfaces of the curved out-spread wings 5 and tail shapes forming receptacles or compartments into which the small pieces of colored stone and glass were placed in imitation of feather-patterns. The talons of this hybrid hold symbols of a lotus and lily, symbolic of the original northern and southern kingdoms plus shen signs that stand for eternity, infinity and/or protection.

The upper portion of this pectoral contains a stylized bark on which a wadjet (or wedjat) eye, the eye of the god Horus, is found centrally placed. When this eye symbol is created facing to the left it is identified as the left eye of Horus and is associated with the moon. Other lunar related elements are placed directly above this eye. The moon disk, made of silver (or electrum) reflecting the coloration of the moon at night, with its supporting crescent shape in gold, has three important golden figures soldered to its surface. The ibis-headed figure at the left is the god Thoth, the god of writing, who is associated with the moon. He wears a disk and crescent symbol of the moon.

In the center of this design is the King, Tutankhamun, also wearing a disk and crescent above his khepresh crown, a most unusual and atypical element for a king to wear. The king holds the symbols of his office, the scepter and flail, carried by kings for centuries, in his right hand and these implements rest against his shoulder. The figure on the right is the god Re-Herakhty who wears a sun disk for his obvious association to the sun. The sun and the moon are thus incorporated into this triad with King Tutankhamun shown as a lunar god in this instance by the moon symbols above his crown. I have been interested in the symbolism applied here for sometime and I have noted symbolic references to the moon in other pieces of Tutankhamun’s jewelry. The reasons for this change and addition in subject matter at this particular time in Dynasty Eighteen as well as how this iconography should be interpreted requires much more investigation.

Although I have recorded examples and have been studying this phenomena for sometime, none of my thoughts on the possibilities for this added lunar symbolism have been published, but Erik Hornung and Elisabeth Staehelin, have made suggestions in print that include some of my conclusions. Their words provide some insight into this question. These writers cite a group statue from Faras where the king is named, “ He who is fully reborn every month” which they indicate is a reference to the king’s “moon-like” identity.Further, they indicate, “Thus, in both image and word, the king is ascribed divine status, uniting and embodying sun and moon together, and it is through this quality that in the beyond he is ensured regeneration every day and every month.”  6   Beside the pectoral which is the focus of this research there are other examples cited by these authors which include Tutankhamun’s  throne name (prenomen) showing a winged scarab supporting a crescent moon and lunar disk. 7

I have recorded other examples, first pectorals then a ring that were not mentioned elsewhere that emphasize the moon or the moon in combination with the sun.  A pectoral revealing signs of wear, found in the Treasury (Cario J. d’E. 61897) shows a disk and crescent moon on a night bark. 8 Another pectoral (Cairo J. d’E. 61900), 9 with three scarabs each providing a ‘loose’ writing of Tutankhamun’s prenomen with the plural strokes omitted (probably making the design more effective, but that was not of importance to the craftsman who fashioned it).  It was found around the king’s neck in his wrappings indicating its importance. The two outer scarabs each support a sun disk while the center scarab (Cairo J.d’E. 61885) 10 features two moons and a rising sun. The latter held by the fore legs of a centrally placed scarab supporting this sun disk in its fore legs and a shen sign in its rear legs. Flanking the central scarab are two baboons frequently associated with the raising sun. Somewhat unusual is the fact that each wears a moon and crescent on their heads.

The last pectoral(Cairo J. d’E. 61887) 11 to be noted is another scarab that is read as the king’s prenomen including the plural strokes absent in a previous example …. except that it supports the moon and a crescent rather than the sun, thus providing a lunar meaning.

Rings also display the presence of lunar elements A double ring of the god Thoth (Cairo J. d’E. 62437) 12 illustrates a baboon on the left bezel wearing a moon disk and crescent. On the right bezel the god Thoth in the guise of an Ibid-headed figure is also wearing a moon disk and crescent. Another ring (Cairo J.d’E. 62450) with the sun bark as the central image according to James, 13 has baboons adoring a disk and crescent in their bark that relates to the moon in the view of this writer.

The frequent incorporation of the disk and crescent of the moon in the jewelry of King Tutankhamun as well as a representation of this king wearing these symbols, implying that he is a lunar deity, reveal a change in thought and iconography in Tutankhamun’s reign. More will surely be revealed through further study.


1.       Among many see, C. Desroches-Noblecourt, Life and Death of a Pharaoh Tutankhamun (New York, 1963); C. Aldred, Jewels of the Pharaohs, Egyptian Jewelry of the Dynastic Period (New York, 1971); A. Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptian Jewellery (London,1971); [I. E. S. Edwaards,] Treasures of Tutankhamun (London, 1972 ) and (New York, 1976); C. Andrews, Ancient Egyptian Jewelry (New York, 1991);  T. G. H. James, Tutankhamun, The Eternal Splendor of the Boy Pharaoh (Cairo, 2000) and E. Hornung and E. Staehelin in A. Wiese and A. Brodbeck eds, Tutankhamun,The Golden Beyond. Tomb Treasures from the Valley of the Kings (Basel, 2004), pp. 81-2.

2.       Among many illustrations see, James, pp. 230-1 Andrews, pl. 20; Aldred, pl. 106.

3.     As examples see, A. Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptian Jewellery (London, 1971), pls. I and II (from the reigns of Sesostris II and III respectively); XVII, A, reign of Seaostris III. See also C. Aldred, Jewels of the Pharaohs (New York, New York, 1971), pls. 33, 41, among others.

4.       Conversions with George Johnson have indicated the material from which this scarab was undoubtedly made.

5.     For the types of winged scarabs including those used during the reign of King Tutankhamun see, E.  L. Ertman,       “ Types of Winged Scarabs: Tutankhamun’s use of H -winged scarabs” in, M. Eldamaty and M. Trad, eds. Egyptian Museum Collections around the World, vol. 1 (Cairo, 2002), pp. 333-343, especially the chart on 343

6.     A. Wiese and A. Brodbeck eds, Tutankhamun, The Golden Beyond. Tomb Treasures from the Valley of the Kings (Basel, 2004), pp. 81-2.

7.       Ibid., Wiese and Brodbeck, fig. 57 and T. G. H. James, Tutankhamun The Eternal Splendor of the Boy Pharaoh (Cairo, 2000),  p. 234 (Cairo J. d’E.61890), and a cartouche of Tutankhamun’s cartouche supporting a moon and crescent, flanked by uraei wearing sun disks, (Wiese and Brodbeck, fig. 58, Cairo no. unknown).

8.     James, pp. 210-11.

9.     Ibid ., p. 215.

10.   Ibid., pp. 216-7.

11.   Ibid., p. 218.

12.   Ibid., p. 250.

13.   Ibid., pp. 252-3

January 2009

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.