Artifact Spotlight: Ushabti Figurines

Ushabti Figurines

These Ushabti Figurines, two of which are originals (from about 700-200 BC), belonged to various museums in Britain before BYU-Idaho purchased them.  They are from Ancient Egypt and the inscriptions on them are written in Egyptian.

This Ushabti is a replica.



Ushabti figurines, which are also spelled ‘shabti,’ ‘uhabti,’ or ‘shawabty,’ are any of the small figurines that are made of wood, stone, or faience (like ours).  They were often found in ancient Egyptian tombs in large numbers.  Their height ranges from approximately 4 to 20 inches (ours are on the smaller side, about 4-6 inches tall).  The statuettes often hold hoes in their arms.  The purpose of the Ushabti was to act as a magical substitute for the deceased in any menial tasks the gods might request in the afterlife.  Ushabti translates to “answerer.”  The earliest figures, from about 1539-1075 BC, were often made to represent the tomb owner, looking like a mummy and inscripted with the owner’s name (The Editors).

In The Book of the Dead, spell 6 is dedicated to calling the ushabti to action:

O shabti, allotted to me, if I be summoned or if I be detailed to do any work which has to be done in the realm of the dead: if indeed obstacles are implanted for you therewith as a man at his duties, you shall detail yourself for me on every occasion of making arable the fields, of flooding the banks or of conveying sand from east to west; ‘Here am I,’ you shall say (Artifacts).

Ptolemaic Period, ca. 200 BC

Our newer ushabti is carefully rendered with almond-eyes, ears, wig, and false beard. He is depicted with traditional Egyptian agricultural implements. In his right hand he holds the ancient A-shaped hoe and a rope running over shoulder that connects to a seed-sack. In his left hand he grasps a “sulk,” a tool similar to a mattock or pick-axe, and an odd tool consisting of several balls tied on strings, shown by five incised circles.

The single column of incised hieroglyphs in front give the name of the owner:

General Pa-di-Her-em-heb to whom Aset-her ti gave birth

Late Period, c. 747-332 BC

The older ushabti has brown colors are mineral encrustations resulting from having been buried for more than two thousand years.

The hieroglyphic inscription names the ushabti’s owner as Nes-Min. It reads:

May he be illuminated, the Osiris, Nes-Min, the true of voice.


“Artifacts: Shabtis.” Spurlock Museum of World Cultures at Illinois. Spurlock Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica. “Ushabti Figure (Statuette).”Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.



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