Shawabtis: Wood, steatite and blue faience
Late New Kingdom (1300-1200 BC), Faience shawabti: Late Period (1300 – 4th century BC)
Provenance unknown, later Drovetti Collection, 1824
Inv. Nrs. Shabwabties C. 2600, C. 2806, C.2666, faience example C.2509, shawabti box C.2444
In ancient Egypt everyone was expected to work the land following the Nile flood. Death provided no exemption from these duties, so shawabti-figures were devised in the Middle Kingdom to ‘answer the call to work’ on behalf of the deceased, as confirmed by Chapter VI of the Book of the Dead. Mummiform shawabtis were equipped with agricultural implements such as a broad and pointed bladed hoes and a basket for seeds slung by a rope over the back of the figure. In the Third Intermediate Period the ideal number of shawabtis in a tomb was 365, one for each day of the Egyptian year. Overseer figures, dressed in the clothing of the living and carrying whips and staffs ensured that the shawabtis performed their duties, swelling the numbers to 401. Shawabtis were initially made in wood and stone and later, because of the great numbers required, were mould-made in faience. It was usual for the shawabties to be neatly packed into a decorated wooden box in the tomb.