The larger part of the talismans used in ancient Egypt represented some living creature. The most usual type is the bull’s head, which was cut from carnelian, hematite, amazon stone, lapis lazuli, or quartz. Prehistoric Egyptian talismans representing the fly have been found; these were of slate, lapis lazuli and serpentine. In historic times gold was employed as the material. Other types occurring in pre-historic times are the hawk, of quartz or limestone; the serpent, of lapis lazuli or limestone; the crocodile and the frog.
Carnelian was freely used as the material for talismans in the earlier historic times, among the prevailing forms were the hand, the fist, and the eye; talismans figuring the lion, the jackal-head, the frog, and the bee, also appear. Silver or electrum was substituted for carnelian in the Middle Kingdom. At a later period talismans were used less and less frequently.
The mysterious virtues of the scarab are not yet forgotten in the East, in Syria at least, for we are told that this beetle is an object of much veneration among the Syrian peasants as an talisman. One use of it in this way is to enclose a specimen in a box and lay this upon the breast of a babe in its cradle as a sure protection against the greatly-dreaded Evil Eye. There is also a superstition in this region that if a “scarab” is found lying helplessly on its back, anyone who charitably relieves it of its embarrassment by setting it on its feet, will be relieved of the guilt of a number of sins.
It is difficult to see any other origin for the scaraboid, or imperfect scarab form, than that afforded by the Egyptian scarabs, some of which date back to about 4000 B.C. Whether we can literally say that the scaraboid was introduced into Babylon by the Egyptians may be open to question, as the form itself appears to have been evolved by Etruscans and Greeks. Unquestionably the scaraboid was much more easily shaped than the scarab proper, and for those traders who wished large supplies for commercial purposes at a low cost, this was by no means a negligible quality.