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Inscribed shabtis

Neshathor worker shabtis

Four worker shabtis of Neshathor

Shabtis (or ushabtis) are a very common feature of Egyptian burials from the New Kingdom onwards. They tended to be put individually or in very low numbers into burials in the 18th dynasty, but in the 19th dynasty we start to see the number of them in burials increasing. Eventually the standard number became 401, one shabti for each day of the year and 1 overseer for every 10 ordinary ones (Egyptian bureaucracy extended into death).

The function of the shabti is complex and changed over time. The most commonly found explanation is that the shabtis were supposed to do manual work in the next life which the dead man was supposed to be called on to do, things like carrying sand. Better examples bear a text about this, the so-called 'shabti spell'.

Only one set of inscribed shabtis has been found in TT99, those of Neshathor. We have located several hundred fragments of this shabti type, and we believe w have at least 250 examples. They are made of fired silt; the fabric is very sandy, and this means that the shabtis are very easily broken, as the fabric is not very strong. They are painted green; green shabtis are perhaps later in date than the blue examples, but we have not decided what date to assign to him yet. Neshathor is not attested elsewhere in the tomb, so we do not yet know anything further about him.

We have both the worker and the overseer type. The overseers bear a range of decoration; in addition to examples like that below with the deceased's name, there are some which bear the signs for 'East' and 'West', which we presume to be something to do with the names of the gangs of shabtis.

Neshathor overseer shabtis

Rear of a worker shabti of Neshathor

Neshathor overseer shabtis

Front and back of overseer shabti of Neshathor

Click here to see the page about smaller uninscribed shabtis.


© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2018