To follow the entire Prown technique of object analysis. To understand the Egyptian belief in immortality and its connection to the shawabti figure.
Stage One: Description of a shawabti from the tomb of Nubian prince HekaNefer who was a contemporary of King Tut. It is on display at the Peabody Museum.
The object is about eight inches long; three inches wide at its widest, two inches at its narrowest; and two inches thick at its thickest and about one inch thick at its thinnest. If I could handle it, I would weigh it or give an approximation of its weight. Students will use replicas in class or at the Peabody.
It appears to be one solid piece of stone.
Since it is all one piece, there are no nails, hinges, cement, or glue or wedges holding it together.
On the head of the figure is a head wig and a chin wig. The figure has large ears, a prominent nose, and lips. The middle section of the figure has two crossed hands engraved into the stone, each one holding a tool (sickle). Then, from the midsection down to the bottom there are seven equal, parallel, engraved bands, each about onehalf inch in width, containing hieroglyphic symbols. Some of the symbols include people standing or sitting holding some sort of tool or implement, two different kinds of birds, wavy lines, an eye, a boat with three sails, and three dots. All of the symbols are spaced, and groups of symbols form squares and rectangles. The bottom of the figure has a rough surface while the rest of the figure is smooth with the exception of the engraved areas.
Formal Analysis (TwoDimensional):
The figure shows three strong vertical lines on the head. The ears and hair on either side of the face are perfectly symmetrical with the nose and chin wig which form the central line or axis. The middle section of the figure separates the head lines from those of the bottom by forming an Xshape with the crossed hands. Again, there is symmetry in the identical, rounded tool grasped in each hand. Just below the midsection and continuing to the very bottom of the figure, seven bands of hieroglyphics form very strong horizontal lines. Each band is bound by a line carved into the smooth stone surface. There are eight carved lines.
Looking at this shawabti from the front, I see that the head is smaller than the broad shoulder area of the figure. From the shoulders down, the figure tapers to its narrowest section at the bottom. The figure is perfectly symmetrical.
Formal Analysis (Three Dimensional):
The figure is that of a mummified body. It has two sections, the rounded head and the body.
The entire outside surface, except for a small circular rough area of stone on the bottom, appears to be painted black. There are several traces of white marks on the figure as well. There is a small area to the right of the mouth that is darker black. There are areas of almost greenishblack, a lighter shade on either side of the chin wig and along the forehead. The rough bottom, which appears to have been removed from or broken off another surface, is grey with black and white specks.
There would probably not be any smell, taste, or sound to the figure. If I were to feel it, I would immediately recognize its mummified form and I would probably feel the curves of the body as well as the carvings on the stone surface. It would probably feel cold, angular, hard, and rigid.
This figure strongly resembles a human body and thus it is heavily based in the real world. The fact that it is not a portrait representing a living being suggests that the figure has significance for the afterlife. The figure has some connection with work as evidenced by the fact that it is holding tools. Additionally, the hieroglyphics portray humans engaged in several different workrelated activities. The shawabti appears to be a male, based on the fact that it is wearing a chin wig.
This object is intriguing and mysterious because it is familiar, and yet there is something unknown about it. It is familiar in the sense that we would expect to find mummies in Egyptian tombs and yet we do not know who they represent, what they represent, why they were there, or what the symbols on them mean. If I were the figure, I would probably feel trapped, stiff, and lonely.
Stage Three: Speculation
In this step, students will put together what they have learned about the object in the first two steps and then will define the remaining questions to be answered. While the rest of the analysis of the shawabti can be completed in the museum, this part of the procedure will probably see its best results after students have had time to absorb what they saw and felt in the first two steps. This aspect of the analytical process is in many ways the most exciting to watch. Students must internalize what they have learned, synthesize it with anything else they may know, and try to categorize the major areas of research into several overall themes. As students brainstorm in class, have another student record their questions on the board or on paper. After all questions have been listed, ask students to group them according to similar themes. Some examples of their questions might be: What does the figure have to do with the deceased? It is a statue of the deceased or of someone else? Is the figure a true likeness or is it representational? Why is there writing on the figure? What does it mean? What does the chin wig or mummy style represent? What is the statue holding in its hands? Why is the figure mummiform? Was it alone in the tomb or were there many figures with it? What special beliefs did Egyptians hold about shawabtis?
Result of Preliminary Investigation:
The group of students analyzing the shawabti figure can divide its research into the various questions or common groups of questions on the same topic. The topics on which their above questions centered are: purpose of the shawabti, relationship to the deceased, meaning of the hieroglyphics and other symbols such as tools drawn on the figure, size of and materials used to make the figure, number of figures placed in tombs, kinds of work performed. What is most important for students to consider is the overall question: What does the shawabti represent about Egyptian beliefs in the afterlife, about the Egyptian social order, and about work?
While students will probably rely heavily on traditional research methods of using local libraries, I plan to encourage them to visit local museums and galleries. Books that I found helpful in gathering information about shawabtis were the books listed in my bibliography by J.R. Harris, Adolf Erman, the British Museum’s guide book to their Egyptian collection, Heinrich ShŠfer, and Wallis Budge. In my research I found that “shawabti” is spelled several ways: ushebte, shabti, ushabti, ushawabti. Sometimes information was listed under funerary objects, servant figures, servant statuettes. The following information is the result of my research and is intended as background information for the teacher.
Shawabti figures were commonly buried funerary objects in the tombs of wealth Egyptians beginning from the end of the Old Empire (Old Kingdon) and continuing throughout Egyptian history until Egypt was conquered by the Romans in about 31 B.C. Use of the figures reached its peak in the Middle Kingdom (2000 B.C.—1750 B.C.).
Most shawabti figures are mummiform in appearance because they represented the deceased as Osiris. Egyptians believed that the dead became a part of Osiris once they were accepted into his realm. Osiris is always represented as a mummy. The name “shawabti” means “answerers” as the Egyptians believed that everyone would be called to work in the kingdom of Osiris. These figures would “answer” for the deceased and perform any manual labor necessary. In this sense, the figure represents the Egyptian belief that the social order on earth would be recreated or continued and that the nobility would be excluded from performing manual labor.
The earliest figures were made of wood or wax. Later, Egyptians made them out of alabaster, limestone, sandstone, basalt, diorite, granite, faience (crushed quartz with blue glaze over the surface), and schist. Soft materials were usually painted; hard surfaces were not painted.
The figures were sometimes standing in the tomb and thus were attached to a square pedestal. Many shawabtis have rough surfaces on the bottom because they were broken off these stands. Other shawabtis were laid along the floor in a reclining position. During the Middle Kingdom the statues were provided singly in burials, sometimes in small coffins, and thus were true deputies of the deceased. In later times, large numbers were buried, especially in royal tombs. In the late New Kingdom (1550 B.C.—1085 B.C.), it became customary to provide one shawabti for each day of the year. In addition, there were “overseer” figures added to control gangs of workers. Large collections of shawabtis were usually presented in special shawabti boxes.
The tomb of Seti I had seven hundred figures.
When shawabtis were buried in large numbers, they were usually shown performing a variety of jobs, such as rowing or sailing boats, fishing, ploughing, reaping, carrying water, herding cattle, working in brickyards, weaving, working in granaries, involved in carpentry or working as household servants.
Most of the servant statuettes were inscribed with hieroglyphics. In some cases the hieroglyphics stood for the person’s name. In general, the hieroglyphics instructed the shawabti about work in the “Fertile Land.” Many figures are inscribed with chapter six from
The Book Of The Dead
. The tools held by the figure, or the bag on the back of the statue, signify the particular work to be performed.
The earliest shawabtis did not hold agricultural implements, nor were they mummiform. Hands were either down at the side or were crossed in front of the figure’s chest. Sometimes, scarabs (beetlelooking bugs), wings outspread, were placed on the breast of the shawabti over the section from which the heart had been removed.
One of the essential preliminaries to successful resurrection was removal of internal organs as part of the mummification process. It was equally important to the wellbeing of the deceased in the afterlife to carefully preserve the major organ. Beginning in the Old Kingdom (about 2700 B.C.), and continuing throughout most of Egyptian history up to about 31 B.C., each of the four major embalmed organs, called the viscera, were placed in the designated jars.
Each jar was believed to be under the protection of a particular genius. Sons of Horus, these genii—’Emset, Hape, Duamutf, and Qebhsneuf—could protect the deceased from hunger or other disagreeable sensations. The stomach and large intestines were protected by ‘Emset (sometimes spelled Mestha or Imsety); the small intestines were guarded by Hapi; Duamutf looked after the lungs and heart; and Qebhsneuf saved the liver and gall bladder.
Originally, the outside of the alabaster or stone jars were inscribed with information about the organs. The painted genii decorated the jars. From the XVIIIth dynasty (1550 B.C.) on, canopic jars had four different stoppers, each one with the head of an animal representing the appropriate genius: ‘Emset had a human head; Hapy an ape’s head; Duamutf was represented by a jackal head; and Qebhsneuf had a falcon head.
During the reign of Aknaton in the fifteenth century B.C., the portrait head of the deceased covered the jars. By the twentyfirst dynasty (1100 B.C.), Egyptians no longer removed the organs from the mummified body, but the practice of including sets of jars in tombs was so established that Egyptians continued to supply them simply to follow custom. By the first century B.C., solid “dummy” jars were used.
It is interesting to note, too, that the name “canopic” is considered a misnomer. Early scholars thought that jars with humanheaded stoppers were proof of the existence of Canopus, pilot of Menelaus, buried at Canopus, Egypt. Canopus had been worshipped locally in the form of a jar with a human head and a swollen body. Years of research have proven this theory inaccurate, but the name survives.
The jars exhibited at the Peabody Museum represent the animal and humanheaded style. The variety of size, materials, and stoppers makes them excellent objects for student analysis. The combination of elements which are familiar (human and some animal heads) with those not known (jackal and the form or use of the container) summons the students’ curiosity and creativity.