Ancient Egyptians were aware of Libyan Desert Glass and treated it much like other precious gems. King Tutankhamun (1341-1323 BCE) was buried with a large pectoral, or breast plate, which had a golden-green Libyan Desert Glass carved into a winged scarab at its center. Tutankhamun was a relatively unremarkable pharaoh, but his tomb is the only royal grave that survived intact until the 20th century. Uncovered in 1922, the tomb is largely considered one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time. There were 5,398 items cataloged from the tomb, including jewels and weapons, furniture and clothes, as well as food and wine. These objects have been critical in helping archaeologists and historians understand life in ancient Egypt.
This breast plate was found in a treasure chest, rather than on the body of the Pharaoh. It is made of gold and silver and is decorated with Carnelian, Lapis Lazuli, and Malachite. The center stone was originally thought to be a Chalcedony. Ten years after the tomb was opened, it was suggested that the golden gem might actually be a piece of the natural glass occasionally found in the Great Sand Sea. This identification was confirmed in 1988 by Vincenzo de Michele, an Italian mineralogist who was allowed to analyze the optical properties of the Pharaoh’s mysterious golden scarab. In ancient Egyptian lore, scarabs are a very powerful symbol, representing immortality and resurrection. They were associated with the god Khepri who represents the morning sun and the renewal of life, whose name literally means, “to change” or “to happen.”