The ancient Egyptians’ religion entailed multiple deities, goddesses, and gods that were worshipped for various reasons. Each deity carries its own meaning and representation of the world around the Egyptians.
Often times, different animals or insects were seen as the embodiment of these deities and thus were sacred to the Egyptian people. They were also used to symbolize the deities in their artefacts. Like the cat symbolizing Bastet, Mafdet, and Sekhmet. Or a bird as the symbol for Thoth.
The dung beetle is one such example. It was used as the symbol for Khepri. Below are some fascinating facts about this Egyptian scarab, as well as the symbolism and meaning which Khepri as a deity represented.
7 Interesting Egyptian Scarab Beetle Facts
The scarab beetle has been around for centuries. Here are some amusing facts about this bug that you may not have known.
1. A huge family
The Dung Beetle forms part of a massive family of scarabs. To date, scientists have discovered just over 30,000 different species of scarabs.
Scarab beetles have a wide range in size. Some are extremely small and are only about 0.02 inches. Whilst others, such as the Goliath beetle, can be 4.7 inches long.
2. Don’t need spades
They’re great diggers. Scarab beetles have serrated edges along the sides of their front legs. This makes it easier for them to dig through soil.
3. Night owls
They mostly come out at night. Majority of the scarab beetle family are nocturnal. Meaning they are most active during night time as opposed to daytime.
4. Unique shells
Some have beautiful coloured shells. Several members of the Scarab family have structurally coloured shells. The shells also act as left-handed circular polarisers. Meaning that instead of absorbing light, it reflects it, giving off a colourful look.
5. Love for dung
Dung beetles really love dung. The dung beetle uses manure for just about anything. It is even used as a food source – nasty but true. The dung beetle will pick through the manure to find the nitrogen particles to eat, which is a great source of protein for them.
They also lay their eggs inside the manure once they have rolled them into balls and into their underground nest. When the larva hatch, the dung doubles as a food source for them too.
Another way they use their ball of poo is to climb onto, and relax on it to cool off during really hot days. As the ground becomes quite hot, it may cause the beetle to overheat, so to counteract this, they chill out for a bit on their ball of dung.
Celestial navigation for the win. It has been discovered that the Dung Beetle uses celestial cues to navigate itself. The sun, moon, and even the milky way is used by them to find their way in the wild.
7. Small, but strong
They’re stronger than you think. Dung beetles are able to move over 1,000 times their own bodyweight, which makes them one of the strongest insects out there.
Khepri: What Did It Symbolize?
Amidst the horde of gods the ancient Egyptians worshipped, Khepri was among the most important of them all. This god was believed to have created himself. He was known as the god of creation, life, resurrection, and the movement of the rising sun. Therefore, he can be seen as another form of The Sun God, Ra.
Khepri is often depicted as a man either wearing a crown with a dung beetle on it or as having a scarab for his head. Hence why the dung beetle is used to symbolise him in ancient Egyptian artefacts, such as ornaments, tokens, jewellery, texts, and hieroglyphs.
The scarab beetle has become an important and popular talisman throughout Egyptology due to what it represents.
According to ancient Egyptian lore, Khperi’s responsibility was to renew and move the sun into the sky from the underworld every morning. After the day dies out and the night takes over, it is again Khepri’s responsibility to renew the sun before rolling it out again the next morning. As the beetle rolls his ball of soil and manure across the land, Khepri rolls the sun into the sky each day.
He was also thought to protect the spirits of the dead during their judgement. Scarab amulets would be placed over the heart of those that have passed on during the mummification for their protection.
The scarabs were then also inscribed with spells, mostly from the Book of the Dead. He, therefore, played an especially important part when someone has died, as well as during funeral rituals.
Although the scarab symbol was custom practice for funerary rituals, it was also popular with common people, as well as royalty. Both types of people incorporated this symbol into their daily lives, too.
Because the dung beetle lays its eggs in the ball of dung, the larva hatches, symbolically, out of ‘nothing’. The birth of the larva that transforms into the dung beetle, therefore, represents life and rebirth, as symbolized by Khepri. This is fitting to the ancient Egyptian religion that believed in immortality and resurrection.
The word Khepri’s root meaning is “to transform”, or, “to create”, as well as the quite literal term, “scarab beetle”. There are also multiple ways of spelling Khepri, such as:
But regardless of spelling, the meaning remains the same: “He Who Is Coming Into Being”.
Final Thoughts About The Egyptian Beetle God
The ancient Egyptians certainly chose the correct bug to represent Khepri. Being such a rugged, and strong insect that has been on earth for over 250 million years, it is no wonder that they seem immortal and god-like. As seen in the Egyptian civilization, the scarab is the god of bugs.
Today, one can still find ornamental and jewellery pieces of the symbol of Khepri to purchase around Egypt. It has even become popular in modern lifestyles and pop-culture. The symbol was featured in a mission on the video game ‘Assassins Creed’, and has also become a popular subject for tattoos.
What may be an ordinary dung beetle to some of us, held very important, and beautiful symbolism to the people of ancient Egypt. Next time you see one, contemplate that it is not merely a bug rolling around a ball of poo – it is a representation for regeneration and life.