reign of Amasis
17.6 x 4.9 x 4.3 cm
Purchased, 1888 (49-D1A)
12.6 x 3.3 x 2.8 cm
Presented by Signor Spiro Magnarisi, 1881 (7-D 1 A)
Sediment, Grave 134
reign of Set I.
wood. gesso, pigment
20.0 x5.1 x4.3cm
Presented by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt. 1921 (3396-D3)
Sedment, Grave 413
12.9×5.0 x3.1 cm
Presented by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt, 1921 (3383C-D3)
Gift of Mr Peter Chaldjian, 1996 (1996.462)
During the small mummi-form figures within the coffins were placed in the tomb to act as a substitute for the body if it was damaged. Contemporaneously, and beginning in the Old Kingdom statuettes of servants were also placed in the tomb to perform service in the afterlife. These two practices merged to produce the Shabti, or Ushabti, which would work in place of its owner in the afterlife when he/she was called upon to perform the compulsory labor tax. The name means “one who answers” (the call to work).
Such figures became an essential part of the tomb equipment, for no one could avoid this requirement. Originally one figure provided, but gradually the number increased until one was provided for every day of the year, plus overseers with sticks to ensure that all worked. The normal figures have tools to perform the various tasks: hoes and mattocks and a basket; sometimes miniature tools were included in the tombs. Contracts were even drawn to confirm legal ownership of the figures.
Various materials were used: wood (3), ceramic, stone, glass, and especially glazed composition (faience: 1, 2, 4, 5). Those wood and stone were hand carved; those faience and glass were mold-mad. Many are of poor quality, but others are fine pieces with crisp details, such as (1), which belonged to Psamtek-mery-Ptah, Overseer of Royal Barges. In rare examples the figures have a representation of the Ba-soul across the front (4): shown as a human-headed bird, which normally came into existence at the moment of death.