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USC Archaeological Research Collection

Egyptian Ushabti

Ushabtis, also called shawabtis or shabtis, first appeared on the ancient Egyptian scene in the Middle Kingdom sometime around 2000 B.C.E. Ushabtis are small funerary figurines, usually measuring 10 centimeters or taller, that were buried with a person in order to act as a worker in the afterworld in place of the deceased.
Statue of Isis
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These highly stylized burial figurines commonly depict a body prepared in the traditional Egyptian way, with its arms crossed holding Egyptian artifacts and a head piece adorning the face of the ushabti. The backs of these small figurines is usually designed with a seed pouch slung over the shoulder and with tools to sow and reap the fields of the afterworld. While most of these small statuettes bear the personalized artistic conventions of the region they were produced in, they almost always contain burial inscriptions on the front.

The inscription on a 26th dynasty (663-525 B.C.E.) ushabti translates: "The shining forth of the Osiris, General Ankh-wah-ib-Ra-sa-Neit. Child of (name unclear). Ushabti, if it is decreed that Osiris is to do work any there is in the afterlife, cast down the obstacles in front of this man. Behold me (whenever) you (the Ushabti) are called. Be watchfull at any moment to work there. To plough the fields, to water and (carry) the sand to the east, to the west. Behold me whenever called."*

Ushabtis during these periods were usually crafted in a material known as faience. Faience (a French word derived from Faenza, an Italian town) was made by coating a core material of powdered quartz with a clear alkaline glaze. While used for the production of ushabtis, it was also commonly used for jewelry such as beads and pendants.

*M. Sadigh, Catalog of Ancient Near East Antiquities, p. 5.

Photograph by Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman
West Semitic Research
Courtesy University of Southern California Archaeological Research Collection

Commentary by Michael Church.

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