Gift of Mr. Dana C. Estes, Honorary Degree 18981905.25.2
Shabtis were small figurines deposited in Egyptian burials as servants for the deceased in the afterlife, a tradition dating back to the Middle Kingdom (2040–1782 BCE) and continuing for two thousand years until the end of the Ptolemaic period (305–30 BCE). They have been discovered in great numbers in tombs of Egyptian men and women of all classes. This shabti is one of 360 discovered the burial of the priest Nesbanebdjed, whose tomb was uncovered in the Eastern Delta at ancient Mendes and excavated in 1902 by the Egyptian Antiquities Service. As Late Period shabtis were mold-made out of faience, they could be produced quickly and cheaply. Only a few different molds were used to create shabtis for Nesbanebdjed. In the Bowdoin example, Nesbanebdjed’s shabti wears a tripartite wig and plaited false beard. His arms, crossed over his chest, hold a pick and hoe and he carries a seed bag over his left shoulder.
Shabtis could be made of many materials, including wood, stone, wax, and metals, but in later years were produced mostly out of faience, a frit-paste with blue-green glaze. In many cases, a shabti was provided for each day of the year, or more. They take the form of a mummy, like the deceased, but are equipped with implements that would help them tend the “Field of Reeds” where the deceased “lived.” The term shabti means “answerer”; shabtis would carry out arduous tasks on behalf of the dead such as plowing, sowing, and reaping the crops. In The Egyptian Book of the Dead, shabtis are instructed “if the deceased is called upon to do any of the work required there in the necropolis at any time … you shall say, Here I am, I will do it.” This text was often inscribed on shabti figures themselves.
Inscriptions on shabti figurines often name the deceased and include instructions to the shabti to serve the dead in a variety of ways. On the Bowdoin example, a hieroglyphic inscription on lower portion of his body reads, “Illuminate the Osiris, the Imy-Khent Priest, the One who separates the two gods, Prophet of Osiris in Anpet, overseer of wab-priests of Sekhmet in Mendes, the Prophet of the Ram Lord of Mendes, Nesbanebdjed, born the Shentyt.”
Probably found in 1902, tomb of Nesbanebdjed at Tell er-Roba, excavated by the Egyptian Antiquities Service, Egypt; before 1905, acquired by Dana C. Estes; 1898, acquired by Bowdoin College Museum of Art, gift of Dana C. Estes.
Maine native Dana C. Estes (1840–1909) was a founding partner of a prominent Boston bookseller and publishing house, Estes & Lauriat (est. 1872), which later operated as Dana Estes & Co. (1898–1909).