Understanding the news: The Shabtis of Userhat (Egyptian funerary statues), New Kingdom

Understanding the news: The Shabtis of Userhat (Egyptian funerary statues), New Kingdom
The recently excavated tomb of Userhat in Thebes has a number of features common to New Kingdom tombs in the area, it contains a 'public' courtyard where friends and family of the deceased could leave offerings and probably contained multiple burials. It has been widely described as containing many 'funerary statues' so this post is about the most common of these statue types: Shabtis.
Also known as Shwabtis and Ushabtis, the name of these little figures may come from wSb from the Egyptian for 'I answer'.
First appearing in the Middle Kingdom (ca.2055-1650BCE), by the New Kingdom (ca.1550-1069BCE), the Shabti was the essential Afterlife accessory for any Egyptian who could afford them. Because the ancient Egyptians believed that the Afterlife would very much resemble an idealised version of the one they already knew in the Nile Valley, there would be fields to plant and work to be done; but who wants to work in the Afterlife?
"O, these shabtis, if one counts (me) off for (my) duties - now indeed an obstacle is implanted for (against) me there with -, as a man at his duties; if one counts off for you at any time which has be passed there make arable the fields, to turn over the shores, to transport by boat the sand of the West (and) of the East, 'here you are' you shall say. (1)
Although there is possible evidence that very early kings may have been buried with human and animal servants, this practice (if it proves to be the case) was abandoned early and the ever pragmatic Egyptians came up with a good solution: magical figures who would work for you. These small figures, inscribed with a magic spell and mass produced in faience are very common in the archaeological record because of the huge numbers of them produced. Ideally, a full set of Shabtis would be 365 workers, one for each day of the year and sometimes extra Overseer Shabtis were included in sets.
For further info about the discovery and pictures, click the image linked below.
Chronology: Shaw. I (Ed) (2000) Oxford History of Ancient Egypt OUP, p480-481
(1) http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/burialcustoms/shabtispell.html
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  1. I watched the shows about this tomb and read several articles about it! So unbelievably awe inspiring!


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