Collection of Egyptian Busts and Shabtis, design by Anand Balaji

Nefertiti and the Perfect Serenity of Death: Mesmeric Shabtis of Akhenaten and Tutankhamun —Part II

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Archeological records and a trove of recovered specimens inform us that shabtis (funerary figurines) produced from different materials were placed in the tombs of Eighteenth Dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun, his father and grandfather. The exquisite workmanship of these funerary objects aside, did KV62 yield figurines that were originally destined for the burial of a female pharaoh—and was this person Nefertiti?

Ancient Egyptian burials consisted of anywhere between two, and, in pharaonic tombs, around a thousand shabtis. It was believed that these “Answerers” would carry out tasks on behalf of the deceased in the Hereafter. A superb display of exquisite figurines from different periods, produced from various materials. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Ancient Egyptian burials consisted of anywhere between two, and, in pharaonic tombs, around a thousand shabtis. It was believed that these “Answerers” would carry out tasks on behalf of the deceased in the Hereafter. A superb display of exquisite figurines from different periods, produced from various materials. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

[Read Part I Here]

The Finer Specimens

Given the virtual surfeit of shabti figurines, Howard Carter—the discoverer of the magnificent tomb of Tutankhamun—and his team were awestruck at the sheer beauty of the collection; especially the elegance of the six larger wooden objects. The British archeologist noted, “In the finer specimens, by their own symbolism is expressed the perfect serenity of death.”

Some of the larger shabtis, such as this one wearing the Khepresh (Blue/War Crown, Obj. No. 318a), were donated to the burial of Tutankhamun by the mysterious military officer Nakhtmin whose name was inscribed on the base of the object. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. (Photo: Jon Bodsworth)

Some of the larger shabtis, such as this one wearing the Khepresh (Blue/War Crown, Obj. No. 318a), were donated to the burial of Tutankhamun by the mysterious military officer Nakhtmin whose name was inscribed on the base of the object. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. (Photo: Jon Bodsworth)

The boy-king’s burial seems to have received the pick of gorgeous figurines, to enable him to avoid physical labor of any kind in the Afterlife. Tutankhamun’s shabtis were produced in a range of materials including different types of hard and soft stones, such as quartzite and travertine or Egyptian alabaster. Also, cedar wood was used to make shabtis that were both fully and partially gilded. Last but not the least, Egyptian faience – a sintered-quartz ceramic displaying surface vitrification which creates a bright luster of various colors, with blue-green being the most common – that most popular of materials among shabti-makers, was no exception in Tutankhamun’s assemblage; the color varying from blue-green to deep indigo.

Howard Carter was highly impressed with the selection of large-sized shabtis in Tutankhamun’s sepulcher. Specimens wearing different headgear are shown here; and those with the tripartite wig (top left) were the most common. However, a few shabtis do not seem to have been destined for the boy-king. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. (Photos: Susan Ryan and Heidi Kontkanen)

Howard Carter was highly impressed with the selection of large-sized shabtis in Tutankhamun’s sepulcher. Specimens wearing different headgear are shown here; and those with the tripartite wig (top left) were the most common. However, a few shabtis do not seem to have been destined for the boy-king. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. (Photos: Susan Ryan and Heidi Kontkanen)

Carter recorded eight variations in the objects held in each figure’s hands, variously combined with headdress types and materials. Many specimens represent the king wearing regalia of pharaonic office—the Hedjet (White Crown), Deshret (Red Crown), Pschent (Double Crown), Khepresh (Blue Crown or War Crown), Nemes headcloth and Khat headgear, with a uraeus on the brow. “Some of the larger, well-made pieces pair the uraeus of Nephthys with the vulture’s head of Isis, as in the design of the canopic coffinettes, but a few examples lack any royal insignia at all,” informs Dr Marianne Eaton-Krauss. Additionally, Carter identified the reis or Overseer shabtis as those shown holding the ribbon and flagellum.

Yet another example of a large, partially gilded shabti from KV62. It displays the familiar, cherubic physiognomy of young Tutankhamun. The front of this figurine carries Spell Six from the Book of the Dead. (Egyptian Museum, Cairo.) King Tut exhibit, Pacific Science Center. Seattle.

Yet another example of a large, partially gilded shabti from KV62. It displays the familiar, cherubic physiognomy of young Tutankhamun. The front of this figurine carries Spell Six from the Book of the Dead. (Egyptian Museum, Cairo.) King Tut exhibit, Pacific Science Center. Seattle. (Photo: Dmitry Denisenkov/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )

The larger figurines from KV62 carry the standard shabti text from Chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead in full; others bear only an excerpt from it. Some smaller figures were inscribed with just one or both of Tutankhamun’s cartouches and seven faience shabtis have the appropriate spell, but lack the name of any owner. Many shabtis are known for Akhenaten and his father—even if their tombs were plundered. Only a single shabti of Akhenaten survived antiquity intact. Their shabtis, too, were made of a variety of materials and depicted the subject wearing different head coverings. The text on Amenhotep III’s shabtis was especially created for him; while Akhenaten’s bore only his name.

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