By Faye Kalloniatis, Research Associate
In my recent work on the Egyptian collection, and in preparation for publishing a catalogue of it, I looked closely at the shabtis and ushebtis – funerary figurines which were buried with the dead. These figures often had spells written on them and translating these can add valuable information. In translating the spell on this ushebti, I found it to be of a ‘standard’ kind.
NWHCM : 2000.107 – Ushebtis like this one were buried with the deceased to act as servants in the afterlife.
The ushebti, which was expected to magically come to life, was commanded to do all the menial work for his owner (the deceased) in the afterlife. One activity he was directed to do was ‘to ferry the sand from the west to the east and vice versa’. This instruction is thought to refer to the construction and repair of ditches and fields, an important agricultural activity if the deceased wanted an eternal supply of food. The figurine also carries hoes in his hands and at his back is a seed basket – all confirming his labouring role.
The seed basket is slung over the ushebti’s left shoulder. Actual baskets were filled with seeds ready for planting in the fields.
Apart from the shabti spell, the inscription also gave the name of the owner – a man named Wah-ib-ra-em-akhet, whose mother was called Sedjy. This was very useful information because it was now possible to see if that individual was known through any other artefacts – as indeed he was. As I continued to work through the translations of the spells on the Norwich figurines it turned out that there was another one in the collection belonging to the same man.
The second ushebti of Wah-ib-ra-em-akhet in the Norwich collection.
In fact, it so happens that there are many other ushebtis belonging to Wah-ib-ra-em-akhet in museum collections across the world. This confirms the ancient Egyptian practice of burying not just one but hundreds of ushebtis with each owner.
Wah-ib-ra-em-akhet is also known through his inscribed sarcophagus. Collectively all these items tell us something about Wah-ib-ra-em-akhet’s background. He lived during the Saite Period (Dynasty 26, 664 – 525 BC) and was of Greek descent, his parents having come to Egypt from Greece. At that time some Greeks came as mercenaries to help maintain order in the recently reunified country of Egypt. As a second-generation immigrant, Wah-ib-ra-em-akhet was well-established and had clearly done well for himself, judging by his very finely carved stone sarcophagus.
Follow us on Twitter @NMSCollMan
Search our collections online norfolkmuseumscollections.org
The Egyptian Collection at Norwich Castle Museum by Faye Kalloniatis is now available to buy.