Ushabti of Queen Henuttawy

Light blue faience ushabti of Queen Henuttawy wife of Pinedjem I. One column of painted inscription down front of body; painted flail grasped in each hand. At knees glaze is cracked or more probably the ushabti has been broken and put together.

It depicts a small mummiform figure. Arms are crossed opposite, right over left, and the hands hold a broad hoe in each, rendered in black. The figure wears a black tripartite lappet wig.

Ushabti of Queen Henuttawy
Ushabti of Queen Henuttawy

Black has also been used for other detailing, including accents of facial features, bracelets, a pectoral necklace/collar, and an unbordered column of hieroglyphic text running top to bottom from the lower torso to feet. The text identifies the owner.

Ushabtis were included in tombs to perform agricultural work in place of the deceased in the afterlife. Many of them are inscribed with Chapter 6 of The Book of the Dead, which says they will dig irrigation ditches, cultivate crops, and carry sand. Others only bear the name and title of the owner.

The earlier examples included here are inscribed in ink while in the later examples the text is part of the mold, which clearly saved labor. Ushabtis and scarabs, beetle-shaped amulets associated with rebirth and the sun god, are the most common Egyptian antiquities to survive to modern times.

An ancient Egyptian ushabti or shabti is a funerary figurine that was intended to magically animate in the Afterlife in order to act as a proxy for the deceased when called upon to tend to field labor or other tasks. This expressed purpose was sometimes written on the ushabti itself in the form of a “Ushabti Spell,” of which versions of various length are known.

Shorter ushabti inscriptions could also just identify the deceased by name and, when applicable, title(s). However, many ushabtis carry no text at all. The ideal number of such figurines to include in a tomb or burial seems to have varied during different time periods.

Third Intermediate Period, 21st Dynasty, ca. 1069-945 BC. Now in the Brooklyn Museum. 16.188