Ushabti were part of ancient Egyptian religious/magical funerary tradition. The name literally means "the one who answers" and is also sometimes spelt shabti or shawabti.

All aspects of ancient Egypt, its culture and myth its seem to hold a special fascination and many people today like to buy reproduction ushabti figurines.

What Are Ushabti?

A ushabti is a small statue that was placed in an ancient Egyptian tomb. The statue usually takes the form of a mummy ("mummiform"). Often the figurines carry various tools to assist them with their chores. Some figurines were individually and intricately carved, others - often from later periods - were more crude.

So, what was the ushabti for? The idea was that it would be a bit like a golem. In the afterlife the ushabti would perform chores and work in the fields in place of the deceased, allowing them to live an afterlife of relaxation.

The ushabti figures were usually inscribed with the name of the deceased to ensure that only he could command them. The relevant spells and religious passages were inscribed as coffin texts or on the statuette itself. There is a passage in the Book of the Dead where it is said:

"Hail, Shabti Figure! If the Osiris Ani be decreed to do any of the work which is to be done in Khert-Neter, let everything which standeth in the way be removed from him-whether it be to plough the fields, or to fill the channels with water, or to carry sand from the East to the West. The Shabti Figure replieth: I will do it, verily I am here when thou callest."
The Ushabti were thus effectively substitute workers. It has been suggested that this tradition lies at the root of the witch's familiar.

In later periods the ushabti began to be seen not simply as workers but also as protectors.

The number provided in a tomb often reflected the wealth and importance of the occupant. The famous tomb of Tutankhamen contained a massive 413 ushabti. 365 of these were workers (one for every day of the year) and 48 were overseers.

It seems that middle management thrives even in the afterlife...