664 BC to 580 BC
5″ (12.7cm) high x 1.375″ (3.5cm) wide
With a flowing striated headdress and rectangular beard, the ushabti is made in the form of a mummy. Its legs are a single unit, the arms vertical with the hands exposed appearing as if crossed. The effect is as if the figure is tightly wrapped in cloth, holding a hoe in each hand pressed tightly against its sides. The face is very nicely modeled with expressive eyes and a delightful smile on the lips. Ushabti, or the “answerer,” were interred with the dead to serve as surrogate “workers” for the deceased in the afterlife. In the New Kingdom, numerous ushabti were part of the funerary accouterments made to function as slaves. The fine quality of this ushabti, and the fact it is made of costly faience, indicates its original owner was someone of wealth.
Perhaps no single object epitomizes the spirit of ancient Egypt better than the ushabti. Shaped like a divine mummy, the ushabti evokes the magical side of Egyptian belief in an afterlife, while the two hoes clutched in the hands and the basket carried on the back recall the rural, agrarian culture of the land. The word ushabti (supplanting the older term shawabti) literally means “the answerer”. The function of these little figures is described in Chapter VI of the Book of the Dead: “0 this Ushabti! If (the deceased) is called upon to do hard labor in the hereafter, say thou: I am here.” The ushabti was expected to answer the call to work in place of the deceased, and this passage was frequently inscribed on the figures themselves. Originally, a single usabti was placed in any given tomb, but by the New Kingdom the statues had come to be regarded as servants and slaves for the deceased rather than as a substitute, and many might be found buried together, along with an overseer figure. In the course of Egyptian history, ushabti were created from wood, stone, metal and faience. In the cultural renaissance of the XXVIth Dynasty (Saite period), a green faience the color of the Nile and evocative of the verdant landscape in springtime was particularly popular. To look upon an ushabti is to come face to face with the mystery and magic of Egypt itself. – (PF.0488)