Ushabti, noun

Ushabti

The word ushabti is as old as it is strange-looking. It’s an ancient Egyptian term that today means a small item or items taking the form of a mummified human figure, generally in glazed earthenware. It can also appear as ushibdi or shabti, but ushabti is the most common of the three. The object shown here is an Egyptian blue faience ushabti from the late Ptolemaic period (305-30 BC). It was lot #18 in Antiques & Modern Auction Gallery’s recent sale in West Palm Beach, Florida, where it had a modest estimate (considering its age) of $600-$800.

In ancient Egypt, ushabti were funerary figurines, placed in tombs among the grave goods and intended to act as servants or minions for the deceased, should they be called upon to do manual labor in the afterlife. The figurines frequently carried a hoe on their shoulder and a basket on their backs, implying they were intended to farm for the deceased. They were also usually written on by the use of hieroglyphs, typically found on the legs. Called “answerers,” they carried inscriptions asserting their readiness to answer the gods' summons to work if required.

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