Egyptian ushabti belonged to Ast–Em–Akh–Byt
XVI dynasty – Late Age – 664-525 BC
H: 13 cm
Provenance: French art market; ancient private collection, UK
Egyptian bright green faïence carved on front side with hieroglyphic inscriptions. The figure carries agrarian tools. Accompanied by a document by Dr. Alan Shorter, the expert of the Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities Department at the British Museum. On request of the owner Dr. Shorter examined the Ushabti, established its authenticity and translated the hieroglyphic inscription.
EGYPTIAN AND ASSYRIAN ANTIQUITIES,
Dear Sir, April
the keeper has asked me to deal with your enquiry in regard to the object which you send, and I have much pleasure in informing you as follows: The object is quite genuine. It is an Egyptian ushabti figure, which was put in the tomb in order that it might take the place of the dead person if the latter was summoned to do forced labour in the next world. The inscription down the front of the figure reads “Illuminate the Osiris AST- EM-AKH-BYT born of……”, Ast em akh byt, being the name of the dead man for whom the figure was made. The date of it is the period of the XXVIth dynasty, about 600 B.C. And it is made f a kind of composition, glazed green.
I return the figure, by registered post, at owner’s risk
N. Walkden Esg.
41 Station Rd.
Ushabti in Egyptian meant “Those who answer”. These funerary figurines were considered an integral and necessary element of the burial custom. As representatives of positive constructive forces, they were part of the magical practice and replaced the Justified Dead People.
These statues were intended to be servants who would magically come to life, and do any unpleasant chore the deceased might be called upon to perform in the afterlife. According to the tradition inside the tomb there should be an Ushabti for each day of the year and sometimes there was also a leader Ushabti for each group of ten statues.
The most common Ushabti figure was similar to a mummy and represented the Dead’s eternal spirit called AJ originating from the fusion between BA and KA. To survive, the ka needed a body for its eternal home. The Egyptians believed that the ka dwelt within either the mummy or the tomb statue (sometimes called the ka-statue), a spare body needed if the corpse should be destroyed.
During Dynasty XI (ca. 2025-1979 B.C.), a new type of funerary object appeared in tombs: small statues in the form of nude humans, often wrapped in linen and placed in model coffins. They were inscribed with a prayer for food offerings, although they probably also functioned as an alternative abode for the ka (a person’s vital force). By the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2025- 1627/1606 B.C.), the figures had become mummiform in shape, and their inscriptions clearly join the deceased with Osiris, the god of the underworld, who rose to prominence during this period.
From the New Kingdom through the Ptolemaic Period (from ca. 1539-30 B.C.), shabtis toiled as farmers in the afterlife. Shabtis often carry hoes, seed bags, picks, and water pots, reflecting their farming activities. Since most Egyptians were subjected to corvée (forced labor as a form of taxation), they purchased shabtis to be their substitutes when Osiris called upon them to farm the eternal fields. For the ancient Egyptians, the exchange of one individual for another to perform required work was an acceptable practice. Interestingly, there are shabtis that are inscribed for royalty and nobility, men and women who were not involved in the corvée, implying that these people were not excused from labor in the afterlife. It has been suggested that as of the Third Intermediate Period, shabtis no longer were substitutes for the deceased but similar to personal slaves
It also could be the image of servants or offers- bearers. On the lower side there were carved magical wordings taken from the Book of the Dead. The most recurrent appeared in Chapter VI and forced the Ushabti to obey. Among the Ushabtis we also find the “KA STATUES” manufactured as funeral equipment. These replaced the Dead’s body to host the KA of the Deceased when he would come to assimilate, through them, the essence of food left by the living on the table of offers.
If the Dead had positively passed PSYCOSTASY, he would have gone to Paradise, that is to say the IARU FIELDS, always represented rich of fruits and of any kind of plantations and delights.
There he would live happily with no worries, enjoying the same comforts he had during his earthly life. The Ushabti would have performed for him any duty arranging for all his needs into the life beyond.