Object: ushabti
Ushabti figurine for passage to the world of the dead, 1550–1070 BC, photograph by: Punctum, Bertram Kober
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung


Burial objects in Ancient Egypt

O ushabti, 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, (…) you shall detail yourself for me on every occasion of making arable the fields, of flooding the banks ...

Egyptian Book of the Dead, Spell 6

Ushabti is a term used to describe Ancient Egyptian burial objects which, according to Egyptian belief systems, worked on behalf of the deceased in the underworld and represented them before a court of the dead. The figurines were stored in or near the deceased’s grave. When the dead were called upon to work in the afterlife, ushabtis were believed to have acted as their replacements, performing mostly agricultural duties in their place.

Often created in a mummy form, ushabtis were inscribed with the name of the deceased. The tools required for their work in the afterlife were then also traced onto the figurines. Depending on the social status and wealth of the deceased, larger or smaller numbers of ushabtis could be incorporated into the grave work. The first knowledge historians have of ushabtis dates back to the end of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt. In later periods, particularly the final stages of the 18th dynasty (1570-1293 BCE), the Egyptians sometimes added 365 figures to a single funerary monument, with one figurine representing an afterlife worker for each day of the calendar year. Warden statuettes who watched over the dead were also a common addition.