Mysteries from the Vault: Ancient Amulet

With close to a million objects in the American Numismatic Society’s collections, the curatorial team occasionally comes across items that are mysteries to us. This series will feature some of these objects in the hopes that the collective wisdom of our readers can help us to identify and learn more about them.

With one of our older mysteries recently solved, it seemed to be a good time for a new one!

This is a one-millimeter thin and roughly square piece of metal that features an intricate design. It has been pierced so we presume it was used as some sort of amulet. The pictorial elements and glyphs (and/or writing) are incised on both sides. It weighs 15.31 grams and its dimensions are 49 mm in height and 46 mm in width. We do not have a provenance for the item beyond the fact that it was discovered in one of our ancient cabinets.

Who or what are those little figures at bottom right?

ANS, 0000.999.56759
ANS, 0000.999.56759



Have an idea about what this might be? Let us know in the comments or drop us a line here.


Some more photos to try and bring out the design (click to enlarge)


2 thoughts on “Mysteries from the Vault: Ancient Amulet”

  1. The pseudo-inscriptions look like pseudo-Arabic. I don’t think they are decipherable, unless by comparison with some prototype yet to be discovered. Doesn’t the object look much more modern than ancient?

  2. Rounding up speculation posted elsewhere online.

    1. Instagram commenter suggests that the glyphs looked like Scandinavian runes, along the line of Younger Futhark:

    2. Reddit commenter typoglycemicshock remarks:

    I think, fundamentally, the fact that the piece had been shelved under “Ancient” is pretty telling – stylistically, I would have linked this object to the area of the world around southeastern Europe/the Near East/northern India. I think we can rule out the Americas, Northern Europe, Africa, Australasia, and Southeast and East Asia. (I recognize this may be obvious to you already, but – I just wanted to draw some lines.)
    Do you see how the script on the side with the faces appears to be written upside down to the other side (the “reverse”)? I wonder if the reverse isn’t right-side up, and if the script isn’t related to Brahmi? I’m not any kind of expert in languages from this area, but – my husband happens to be a professor of Buddhism who took seven years of Sanskrit/Pali/Prakrits, and had an immediate gut instinct that the script on this object was related. (My guess is making a drawing of the object will also further illuminate linguistic relationships the script might have.) However, there’s also individual “letters” that appear to me to be numbers in Arabic… so I wonder if this piece might not be from the region that’s now north India/Pakistan/Afghanistan/Iran?
    Furthermore, though most orthodox religions really like to disavow this type of object, taweez charms have certainly long existed in Islam, and in local religions previous to Islam.
    I think I feel the same thing you do about this piece – that it’s a ward or an apotropaic – my guess is from Central or South Asia, but I’ve no idea of the date.

    3. Email commenter suggests an ‘evil eye’ amulet from the Levant.

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