The ushabti, usually of grave goods, was a type of figurine to those that was considered with the magical capacity to make works in the next life replacing the deceased.
So that in the event that the deceased in his eternal experiences was faced with the circumstance of having to perform some task, he could then call the ushabti to help him.
Not in vain, ushabti means, “the one who answer”. Thus, with this call, the ushabti was activated and worked on behalf of the deceased who had resorted to his magic. “Here I am”, it must say. “I will do it”, say the inscription that often complements the ushabtis.
The oldest ushabtis date back to the Middle Kingdom, although over time they became common figures. Certainly the ushabtis were relevant in the funeral grave goods and also had votive uses.
The truth is that the popularity of the figurines became so intense that it was common that inside the tombs were placed 365 ushabtis, or even many more figurines, with the idea that the deceased could enjoy every day of the year, throughout eternity, of these peculiar substitutes when facing certain tasks.
Sometimes, even, the ushabtis they were organized in groups led by foreman. An entire army dedicated to serving the deceased and making his eternal existence more pleasant.
The ancient Egyptians made ushabtis in many ways and aspects. Some are very simple and schematic, rudimentary manufacturing, although others became very elaborate and exhibit a great plastic quality.
The economic capacity was a fundamental factor in the appearance of the ushabtis, but we must also take into account the fashions and other conditioning factors.
The ushabtis could be made in many different materials: wood, glass, stone, rarely made of bronze or contain luxurious materials such as gold…
However, the faience, the glazed Egyptian faience of blue or green tones, may offer its image more characteristic.
The dimensions of the ushabtis are variable: some can exceed half a meter, while others measure a few centimeters.
The most common is that appear like mummy, shrouded, with arms crossed over the chest and feet together.
And it is equally recurrent that they hold farming tools, showing they ready to undertake the agricultural tasks that may be required. Occasionally, however, they were depicted far from the shrouded appearance and even in board clothing.
Also, sometimes, they may appear accompanied by small representations of hoes and baskets. It is also common that in Egyptian tombs these figurines are inside boxes, more or less elaborated, where the ushabtis were kept.
Although many ushabtis are an epigraphs without inscriptions, it is also frequent that they display a text endowed with the capacity to activate them and to give them, theoretically, all their magical potential.
This text, which may appear variations or abbreviated, is Chapter 6 of the book of the Dead that is entitled: “Formula for an ushabti to execute the works someone in the kingdom of the dead”.
“Words said by N (name of the deceased). That says: “Oh ushabti of N., if you are called, if you are appointed to do all the works that are usually done in the kingdom of the dead. Work in your place at all time to cultivate the fields, to irrigate the banks and to transport the sand from the east to the west. “Here I am”, you will say”.
Translation from the 6th chapter of the Book of the Dead by P Barguet.