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11105-3 Overseer ushabtis figure, Egyptian faience, maker unknown, Thebes, Egypt, Dynasties 21-22, Third Intermediate Period (1070 - 712 BC). Click to enlarge.

Egyptian overseer ushabti

Egyptian ushabtis, also commonly referred to as shawabti or shabtis (meaning "answerer"), are funerary figurines, usually mummiform in shape, which were buried with the deceased in their tomb. The purpose of ushabtis was to perform the laborious tasks required for the production of food for their owners in the afterlife (such as sowing seeds, harvesting crops and irrigating the land). Ushabtis were used by both royal and non-royal Egyptians.

This particular figurine is an "overseer ushabtis", …

This object is part of


Object No.


Object Statement

Overseer ushabtis figure, Egyptian faience, maker unknown, Thebes, Egypt, Dynasties 21-22, Third Intermediate Period (1070 - 712 BC)

Physical Description

Male mummiform figure made of Egyptian faience with an exterior pale turquoise-blue glaze. The figure is shown wearing a short head-dress and black painted 'seshed' headband knotted at the back. A vertical column of hieroglyphs are hand painted in black down the front of the chest and kilt, while black paint has also been used to denote the eyes and brows. The figure's right arm hangs by his side and the left arm is bent up to his chest, holding a whip. Some of the glaze has chipped off the left hand.


The vertical column of hieroglyphics down the front of the figure translates "The Osiris, In-peh-ef-nakht, true of voice".



105 mm


40 mm


25 mm




This ushabti is made from Egyptian faience and dates to the Third Intermediate Period (1070 - 712 BC). It possibly originates from Thebes (modern day Luxor) in Upper Egypt and was produced for a deceased man named "In-peh-ef-nakht". This name is attested in Herman Ranke's "Personennamen" (1935, vol. 1, p.34). Other objects belonging to an "In-peh-ef-nakht" include an inner mummy case in the British Museum, London (EA 29591) with titles 'Priest of Amun' and 'Chief of the Sailors in the Domain of Amun' and four wooden shabtis in Vienna (AS 1694a/1-1694a/4). However, it is unlikely that our shabti owner is the same "In-peh-ef-nakht" attested on these objects. Apart from the titles, the presence of wooden shabtis belonging to the same set as faience ones is unknown.

Egyptian faience is a non-clay ceramic made up of quartz (obtained from sand, flint or crushed quartz pebbles), an alkali (such as plant ash or natron), lime and ground copper.
These materials, when mixed with water, form a malleable paste which can be hand-modelled or moulded into various shapes and sizes. When fired, the quartz body develops a blue-green glassy surface, the characteristic attribute of faience, which the ancient Egyptians believed was symbolic of life, rebirth and immortality.

While the processes of faience production are missing from the visual record, experimental archaeology has prompted Egyptologists to assert that four main stages were involved. This includes obtaining the high-quality materials; preparing the faience quartz paste; hand-forming or mould-making the object and then firing it in a kiln. It is likely that this work would have been undertaken by more than one person, presumably labourers, craftsmen and artisans and, most probably, in the same workshop where other goods, such as pottery and glass, were manufactured.

After firing, the faience is glazed using one of three methods - efflorescence, cementation or application. Efflorescence is a self-glazing technique in which soluble salts are mixed with the raw quartz. During the drying stage, the salts migrate to the surface and when fired, they melt to become a glaze. Cementation is another self-glazing technique, where the object is submerged in glazing powder and upon firing, becomes fused to the surface. Application, on the other hand, involves immersing the object into a mixture of glazing powder or hand-painting.

During the Third Intermediate Period, Egyptian ushabtis (such as this example) were mass produced from moulds. The black handpainted details were applied before the shabti was fired in a kiln at 800-1000 degrees temperature.

Egyptian faience first appeared in the Late Predynastic period (3500BC) and was used all the way up until the Ptolemaic period (30BC). Although faience was used in many strata of society, it was essentially a luxury product and according to some, was initially developed as an inexpensive substitute for lapis-lazuli.

The use of Egyptian faience in ushabtis did not occur until the Middle Kingdom. Prior to this, they were made from wood and developed out of the crude models of servants which were produced for tomb owners in the Old Kingdom. The purpose of ushabtis at this time was to represent the deceased owner and perform the laborious tasks for him of hunting and preparing food, irrigating the land and harvesting crops in the afterlife. Until the end of the Middle Kingdom, the deceased was normally buried with about 1-4 ushabtis and between 10 and 40 in the New Kingdom.

By the Third Intermediate Period, the function of ushabtis changed. They were now divided into 'worker' ushabtis and 'overseer' ushabtis and most individuals were buried with up to 401 of them (365 'worker' ushabtis, one for every day of the year and 36 'overseer' ushabtis who instructed the 'worker' ushabtis what to do). Thus, ushabtis were now being mass-produced and were perceived more as slaves of the deceased owner, rather than substitutes for them.

Ushabtis lost their resonance for the Egyptian people during the Late Period and with the decline of the Osirian cult and gradual inability for people to write hieroglyphs in the Ptolemaic Period, they eventually disappeared altogether.




Cite this Object


Egyptian overseer ushabti 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 19 January 2022, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Egyptian overseer ushabti |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=19 January 2022 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}