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Collection Highlights

Eight Ushabtis statuettes

Eight Ushabtis statuettes
© BA Antiquities Museum/C. Gerigk

Registration Number(s)
BAAM Serial Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum Number 0606

Inv.Inventory
 (Malawi Museum) 152

where to find


showcase 7

Eight Ushabtis statuettes

Category:
Tomb equipment, shabtis (ushabtis, shawabtis)
Date:
Graeco-Roman Period (332 BCE-395 CE)
Provenance:
Upper Egypt, Minya, Tuna el Gabal
Material(s):
Man made material, faience
Height:
18.5 cm;
Width:
5.5 cm
Hall:
In the Afterlife, showcase 7


Description

A collection of ushabti statuettes made of faience. They are represented in mummified form, wearing a wig, and with their hands crossed at chest level. Inscriptions from the sixth chapter of the Egyptian Book of the Dead cover them all.

Ushabti

The purpose of these statuettes was to serve the deceased in the afterlife. They first appeared in the Middle Kingdom, when only one or two of them were placed in the tomb to do various chores on behalf of the deceased. They were mummiform and made of various materials, such as stone, bronze, wood, clay, wax, or blue and green faience, the latter being the most common.

These statuettes were called “shawabti” and “shabti” from the New Kingdom onwards. The ancient Egyptian verb “wesheb” meant to “answer”, and these statuettes answered or obeyed and served their owner by carrying out all the hard labor related to food production in the afterlife. While some ushabtis were not inscribed, most were decorated with a text from Chapter Six of the Book of the Dead where the deceased person orders the work to be carried out, such as preparing the fields, irrigating them or to move sand from ‘east to west’ and the ushabti answers “I shall do it”. Some also bore the name and titles of the deceased.

The number of ushabtis placed in the tomb of the deceased increased during the New Kingdom to reach three hundred and sixty-five statuettes, i.e., one for every day in the year, each one serving a day. With the inclusion of thirty-six overseers, their number reached four hundred and one. Each overseer ushabti supervised ten worker figures. They were represented wearing the dress of the living to distinguish them from working ushabtis. The latter were also provided with their work tools, such as chains, baggage, and hunting equipment, while others had none.

Ushabtis were kept inside wooden boxes for protection.


The information given here is subject to modification/update as a result of ongoing research.

Bibliography
  • "Ushabti". In: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Edited by Donald B. Redford. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • "Shabti". In: Dictionary of Egyptian civilization. By Posener, Georges, Serge Sauneron and Jean Yoyotte. Translated from the French by Alix Macfarlane. London: Methuen, 1962.
  • Corteggiani, Jean Pierre. L'Egypte des Pharaons au Musée du Caire. Paris: Hachette, Les Livres de France, 1986.
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