Late - Ptolemaic Period (8th - 1st century BC)
A hieroglyphic symbol and at the same time a powerful amulet protecting the living and the dead throughout the Egyptian civilization. It represents both life and breath as well as eternal life. The ankh was one of the very few hieroglyphs understood by the masses of illiterate Egyptians.
Its shape, resembling a loop over a capital T, according to scholars, is either related to a primeval sexual symbol (a shematic phallus), a part of an arc or even a simple sandal strap.Probably its use began in the Pre-Dynastic Period, before 3000 B.C., as an image of a knot with some special religio-mythical significance.
The main divinities are often represented holding the ankh symbol in their hands as an emblem. In the many preserved representations, in which gods hold in their hands the ankh and extend it toward the nose of the depicted living pharaoh, its connection with life-giving elements – air and water – is perceptible. Also common are representations of the pharaoh and, later, of the ordinary dead being bathed by a rain of ankhs (multiple ankhs in a chain), conferring the symbolic significance of purification, regeneration, and eternal life.
The ankh survives in the Coptic Period, probably on account of its cross-shaped form, and passes thereafter iconographically as a crux ansata (cross with a handle) with a symbolic nature in Christianity.