Bronze Age Mediterranean
Minoan Votive Offerings: Egyptian Scarab Beetles
19th—15th century BC, Minoan culture: Crete and the southern Aegean.
Votive offerings in sanctuaries on Minoan Crete included Scarab beetles – just as in Egypt where they were put into a coffin with a body; dung beetles able to bring new life out of crud.
'It's lucky,' said Quintin. 'They all got tipped into a great cleft in the rock at the top of the hill peak.'
'Where the religious sanctuary was?' asked Miranda.
'Yes. So archaeology has found all these offerings. They were deposited near a large wall, at the top of mount Juktas on the Mediterranean island of Crete, near Knossos with its huge temple of hundreds of rooms and downwards-tapering pillars and upwards-crescentic horns. There was obviously a big fire at the top of the hill during the ceremony, because all the clay and bronze offerings were gathered up and thrown into that rocky cleft near the precipice with all the ash.'
'What sort of things?' asked Miranda.
'Clay figurines,' replied Quintin. 'Ladies in large skirts and bare bosoms with their arms held high in the air. Bronze double axes. Clay models of bulls and sheep and rams. Male figures in loincloths. And in the cave sanctuaries as well, those huge caves down on the lower slopes and near the sea. In one cave there was a small lake of water at the far end and the silt was found to be full of votive offerings, including figurines in clay and bronze and ivory, offerings in clay bowls. Grain. Double axes. Rings and sealstones.'
'Very personalized items,' replied Miranda. 'Or models and replicas of things, so not at all like the swords and shields that were placed into the Thames in the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. More like the trinkets thrown into a wishing-well.
'When a sword was thrown into a river, it was still a personal item. Swords were very personal items to those who owned them,' objected Quintin. 'And the votive shields recovered from the Thames and the Witham in England were models and replicas – that's exactly what they were. But the Minoan peak sanctuary near Knossos has turned up scarabs as well, just like many Minoan burials.
'In Egypt, scarab beetles were put into a coffin with the body; dung beetles that were able to bring new life out of crud. And the body in Egypt was bound up in bandages like a scarab pupae. Scarabs were thought to be an aphrodisiac too, so it was also like putting a sachet of Viagra into the coffin.' Quintin raised his eyebrows. 'Pretty self-explanatory really!'
Votive offerings of Minoan age at the cave of Dicte on Crete, in: Cottrell, Leonard, 1953, republished by Bell and Hyman Limited, 1984. The Bull of Minos: The Discoveries of Schliemann and Evans. Introduction by Peter Levi. Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2009. 11: The Birthplace of Zeus, pp 137–40.
Scarabs in Ancient Egypt, in: Oakes, Lorna and Gahlin, Lucia, 2002, 2004. Ancient Egypt: an illustrated reference to the myths, religions, pyramids and temples of the land of the Pharaohs. Hermes House.