USHABTI: Death, Magic, and the Afterlife in Ancient Kush



"WsB": Wesheb, the ancient Egyptian word meaning "to answer" perfectly defines the role of Nubian and ancient Egyptian ushabtis or shawabty's. These small funerary figurines were stored in the tombs of deceased Kushite royalty for hundreds of years during the Napatan period from about 750 to 270 B.C. The photo shows ushabtis taken from the tomb of Pharaoh Taharqa, a pharaoh of Egypt and qore (ruler) of the Kingdom of Kush during the 25th Dynasty. Made of gray serpentinite, these ushabtis were discovered on the floor in front of Pharaoh Taharqa's sarcophagus.

Ushabtis generally measured around 10 centimeters tall and were often carved to appear mummified, with a hoe in each hand and a rope with a seed pouch over the shoulder. These funerary figurines were meant to magically animate in the Afterlife to carry out manual labor and other tasks on behalf of the deceased when the inscribed 'Shawabty Spell' was spoken. Taken from Chapter 6 of the ancient 'Book of the Dead,' the spell called upon the shawabty to irrigate marsh, plough fields, and ferry sand from east to west at the command of the god Osiris in Paradise.

Photocredit: Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

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