Ushapti Figurines

Agriculture played an important role in the lives of the ancient Egyptians. It lead them to believe a similar agrarian existence awaited them in the after life. Beginning in the Middle Kingdom period and lasting through to Greco-Roman times, it became common for the Egyptians to place small mummiform statues in the tombs of their dead. These mummiform figurines were identified with Osiris, the god of the dead and were called ushaptis. It was believed, when the deceases was called upon to do work (till the soil, harvest crops, etc.) in the after life, the usaptis would act as their servant-laborers.

Ushapti figurines were made from a variety of materials including stone, wood and pottery. However, the most common material used was faience, a blue-green ceramic paste. Faience ushaptis were made in pottery molds and then fired. They were manufactured in enormous numbers and it is not unusual for a single wealthy tomb to contain between three and four hundred of them (one for every day of the year). The quality of their craftsmanship, size and detailing of their features varied according to their cost.

During their long history of production, styling, color and the materials used to make them changed, but some basic features remained constant. The basic features of an ushapti include a mummiform shape, tripart wig and protruding hands which often hold agricultural implements. A wide bladed hoe in the right hand and a pointed stick in the left. The hoe would be used to mix clay for bricks and the pointed stick to open the ground for seeds. On their back is a small seed bag suspended by a cord held in the right hand and slung over the left shoulder. Another common feature (especially in late period ushaptis) is a beard. Ushaptis are often adorned with ink or incised inscriptions from chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead and occasionally the name of the deceased.

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