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Egyptian shabti figures

Shabti figures probably developed from the servant figures common in tombs of the Middle Kingdom. They were shown as mummified like the deceased, with their own coffin, and were inscribed with a spell to provide food for their master or mistress in the afterlife.

From the New Kingdom (about 1550-1070 BC) onwards the deceased was expected to take part in the maintenance of the 'Field of Reeds', where he or she lived for eternity. This meant undertaking agricultural labour, such as ploughing, sowing, and reaping the crops. The shabti figure became regarded as a servant figure that would carry out heavy work on behalf of the deceased. The figures were still mummiform (in the shape of mummies), but now held agricultural implements such as hoes. They were inscribed with a spell which made them answer when the deceased was called to work. The name 'shabti' means 'answerer'.

From the end of the New Kingdom, anyone who could afford to do so had a workman for every day of the year, complete with an overseer figure for each gang of ten labourers. This gave a total of 401 figures, though many individuals had several sets. These vast collections of figures were often of extremely poor quality, uninscribed and made of mud rather than the faience which had been popular in the New Kingdom.

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