A shabti (sometimes spelled shawabti or ushabti) is a 5–30 cm mummiform figure found in several ancient Egyptian tombs. The word "shabti" comes from the Egyptian word for "servant", although exactly what role they played is unclear.
They were usually made of black granite, but some were carved from wood and others painted. The figures were used as servants to accompany the dead into the afterlife. They would wait on the gods during judgment day and also work the fields for the deceased during their journey through the netherworld.
The first shabtis were likely created to provide practical help to the living by performing menial tasks such as watering the land or fetching water. As time passed and people became richer they began to create more elaborate shabtis which are now found in royal tombs. These figures were probably used by the deceased's spirit agents (the priests of Osiris) to assist them in entering the afterlife.
Shabtis disappeared from public view after about 600 A.D., perhaps because they were considered taboo by then. But they still appear in private tombs up until about 1000 A.D., when they seem to have been forgotten about forever.
A Shabti was a miniature figure shaped like a mummy. Mummies were individuals who had been expertly embalmed in order for their remains to be preserved in the afterlife. Shabtis might be fashioned of stone, wood, or ceramics. However they are always made in the form of a body part, such as a hand or foot.
The word shabti comes from an Egyptian language term meaning "that which is before him." In the case of pharaohs, that which was before them was usually food on a plate, but it could also be fuel for a fire or an object used in religious rites. The phrase "there is a shabti before me" was often used by Egyptians when offering homage to a ruler.
In the context of ancient Egyptian religion, a shabti was an individual who had been sacrificed to serve as a proxy during the dead king's judgment scene in the Afterlife. The word itself is derived from a language term referring to what is presented as food on a plate before a king or ruler. In this sense, a shabti was someone who served as a stand-in while the real person was away from court. Although the word shabti can be used to describe any small statue, model, or representation, it usually refers to a tiny mummified hand or foot used by priests to offer sacrifices on behalf of their clients.
Shabti dolls are the most abundant sort of ancient Egyptian item that have survived (besides scarabs). As previously stated, they were discovered in the graves of persons from various social groups, from the lowest to the wealthiest, and from commoner to monarch. They served as servants to accompany the dead to the afterlife.
In order to place them in the tomb, the deceased first had to acquire them. The usual method for doing so was to go to a special shop owned by a mason or sculptor where such items were sold. The price of a shabti varied depending on its material quality and type; the best ones cost much more than others. However, even the poorest ones were able to afford them.
The number of shabtis ranged from a few dozen to hundreds. This variation is probably due to different levels of wealth within the community. However, all shabtis seem to have been placed in the tomb together with their master. There are no examples of shabtis being left in the burial chamber or anywhere else inside the tomb while the owner went outside to take up his/her position beside the deceased.
Shabtis were commonly made of the same materials as the body they accompanied: wood, stone, and clay. However, some shabtis were also made of gold, silver, and other materials valuable to the dead person.