In a dimly candle-lit tomb of a deceased member of ancient Egyptian royalty, a servant finishes in silence his final duties to his master. The large terra cotta containers of grain and spices are in place, the walls decorated with the symbolic language of the times, and the sarcophagus rests among the stillness in the center of this cool, dusty chamber. Before the tomb is sealed and hidden, small, pale blue statues, 360 of them, are carefully lined up around the chiseled floor. They dutifully stand there to serve their master when the gods call upon the dead to perform some chore or duty in the afterlife. Each was to work one day, after which the next in line would symbolically step forward to the call. These are the ushabti, small figurines that replaced the human sacrifices that up until around 3,000 B.C. accompanied their masters to the afterlife. Although vast numbers filled tombs across Egypt for thousands of years, these relatively common funerary statues remain to provide a fascinating glimpse into the ancient past of Pharoahs and the mysteries of mummies.

30 dynasties existed in the long reign of the Egyptian empire. As the dynasties progressed through time, ushabti became more prolific in their symbolic use, being mass produced in the waning years of Egyptian rule. Earlier examples were individual works of art, and often containing the renowned Prayer of the Dead across their surfaces, or the titles of the now deceased owner. Materials used were wood, stone, clay, terracotta, glass, wax, and a glazed earthenware called faience.

The example within this small wunderkammer is from the 30th Dynasty, Late Period, under the reign of Nectanebo, which ranged from 380 B.C. to 343 B.C. He is considered the last native Pharoah of an independent Egypt. Two decades after his reign, Egypt would be under the empire of Alexander the Great from Macedon. The ushabti is in blue faience, with molded hieroglyphics down the front of the figure. The arms are crossed over its chest, with each hand holding an agricultural implement.

Egyptian Ushabti
30th Dynasty - c. 350 BC
Ancient Egyptian Funerary Figurine - Ushabti
Date: 30th Dynasty - 380 B.C. - 352 B.C.
Location: Egypt
Dimensions: Shabti: 11 cm; on stand: 12.8 cm
Provenance: Private purchase

Authentic shabti range in price from the $300-$400 range for examples from the Late Period (26th through 31st Dynasties) to $5,000 or more for earlier periods encompassing the high points of ancient Egyptian civilization.

A Tomb of Royalty


References: Shabtis - A Private View - James - 2002

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