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Shabtis: also ushebtis or shawabtis. The word is ancient Egyptian, and may derive from Egyptian Swb 'stick' originally, perhaps reinterpreted as from Egyptian wSb 'answer', 'respond' in the first millennium BC. Shabtis are small figures of adult male or female form inscribed with a special formula to be recited (Shabti formula), or figures representing the function expressed in that spell, namely, to carry out heavy manual tasks on behalf of a person in the afterlife. In the New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC) and Late Period (about 1550 - 332 BC) these figures were carved in stone or wood or formed in faience. From the neck down the body was usually in the form of a mummy, but at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty there are also shabtis in daily life dress. Shabtis were usually represented with tools in their hands - baskets, mattocks and hoes. The number of shabtis in a standard elite burial grew over time, from one in the Eighteenth Dynasty, to several in the Nineteenth Dynasty, to one for every day of the year by the Third Intermediate Period. In the early Third Intermediate Period (about 1069-850 BC), there was a special form of shabti with one hand to the side, the other holding a whip. These are 'overseers' to keep control of a set of ten: a typical elite burial would then have thirty-six overseers to keep control of the three hundred and sixty-five ordinary workers. In the Late Period the numbers remained in the hundreds, but the 'overseer' type was no longer used.

Not all mummiform figures are shabtis. The earliest mummiform figures seem to represent the dead person and were placed either in his tomb or another sacred place. Many mummiform figures still have this function in the New Kingdom. They are found therefore not only in tombs but also at other 'holy places' where a person wished to be represented. The first mummiform figures with the Shabti spell appear at the end of the Middle Kingdom (in the Thirteenth Dynasty)


mummiform figuresof the late Middle Kingdom (about 1800-1700 BC)
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shabtis of the late Second Intermediate Period
(about 1600-1550 BC)
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shabtis of the New Kingdom (about 1550 - 1069 BC)
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UC 27905 (from Gurob)
UC 2236 (king Akhenaten)
UC 38073 (king Ramesses IV)
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shabtis of the Third Intermediate Period (about 1069 - 664 BC)
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(click here)
shabtis of the Late Period (664 BC - 332 BC)
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a set of Ramesside shabtis | shabti boxes | a list of names and titles on shabtis

Further reading:


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