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The ankh was the Egyptian hieroglyphic character that stood for the word 'nh, which means life. The symbol is also called the crux ansata, Latin for "cross with a handle."

What it is a picture of remains a mystery to Egyptologists. Some have speculated that it represents a stylized womb. This hypothesis has not met with wide acceptance, but none more satisfactory has been proposed.

The ankh appears frequently in Egyptian tomb paintings and other art; it often appears at the fingertips of a god or goddess in images that represent the deities of the afterlife conferring the gift of life on the dead person's mummy. The ankh symbol was often carried by Egyptians as an amulet, either alone, or in connection with two other hieroglyphs that mean "strength" and "health." Mirrors were often made in the shape of an ankh.

A modified version of the ankh symbol is used in astrology to represent the planet Venus, or the element copper in alchemy; in biology the same symbol identifies the female sex.

The ankh symbol is also associated the comic book superhero Doctor Fate, and also with the character Death from the comic book series The Sandman. In the form of a pendant, symbolizing Sanctuary, it was worn by an underground network of Runners attempting to escape their fate in the 1976 science fiction film Logan's Run, based on William F. Nolan's novel of the same name.