Perceiving the realm of the dead primarily as a continuation of earthly existence, the ancient Egyptians described the afterlife in terms of their agricultural society. This is reflected in the shabti-a funerary statuette made to serve as a substitute for its owner in performing menial corvee labor in the afterlife. Such labor, consisting mainly of seasonal agricultural work for the king, was imposed on the majority of the population, and only a privileged few were exempt. The fear of being summoned for corvee work in the afterlife was shared by all Egyptians; shabti statuettes were placed in tombs of all members of the elite, men as well as women, including the king. Usually represented mummiform with agricultural tools in their hands and baskets hanging from their back, shabtis were made of various materials, such as wood, glazed composition, stone, bronze, and glass. Most are inscribed with the name and title of their owner and a customary spell reading: "O, this shabti, if one summons for all the works to be done in the god's land, to make arable the fields, to carry the sand of the east and of the west. I shall do it, here I am, you shall say." This elaborate shabti was made for a woman of high social status whose name has been lost, although her title, "Lady of the House" - a customary designation for married women - survived.
Credit: Gift of Abraham Guterman, New York, to American Friends of the Israel Museum