The ankh is an ancient Egyptianhieroglyphic symbol that was most commonly used in writing and in art to represent the word for "life" and, by extension, as a symbol of life itself. The sign has a cross shape but with an oval loop in place of an upper bar. The origins of the symbol are not known, although many hypotheses have been proposed. It was used in writing as a triliteral sign, representing a sequence of three consonants, Ꜥ-n-ḫ. This sequence was found in several Egyptian words, including the words meaning "mirror", "floral bouquet", and "life". In art the symbol often appeared as a physical object representing either life or substances such as air or water that are related to it. It was especially commonly held in the hands of deities, or being given by them to the pharaoh, to represent their power to sustain life and to revive human souls in the afterlife. It was also used as a decorative motif, one of the most common in ancient Egypt.
Cultures that neighbored ancient Egypt sometimes adopted the ankh as an artistic motif, and Coptic Christians adapted it, as the crux ansata, into a variant form of the Christian cross. Since the late 20th century, the sign has again come to be used decoratively, as well as a symbol of black identity, Neopagan belief systems, and the Goth subculture.
The same consonants were found in the word for "mirror" and the word for a floral bouquet. The three consonants also compose the word for a rope-like object found in illustrations on many coffins from the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055–1650 BC). The Egyptologist Alan Gardiner believed these objects to be sandal straps, given that they appear in pairs at the foot of the coffin and the accompanying texts say the objects are "on the ground under his feet".