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Image showing Ancient Egyptian artefacts, Shabti and Bes

Shabti and Bes

These are 3000 year old Ancient Egyptian artefacts, found in a mummy’s tomb. They entered the Birmingham Museum’s collections in 1936. The larger figure, which looks like a mummy, is actually a Shabti figure. Shabti figures were models of field workers and overseers. Sometimes they were shown holding a hoe over one shoulder and a sack over the other. They were buried with the dead person, and were their servants in the afterlife. It was fashionable for wealthier Egyptians to have a shabti for every day of the year, together with overseers for every 10 workers. There could be as many as 400 shabtis in a full set. During the First Dynasty (3100BC to 2900BC), some Pharaohs had real servants killed and mummified to continue to serve them in the afterlife. Fortunately this practice died out (eventually). This shabti figure is made of faience. Faience is a blue or green glazed material made from clay and quartz sand.

This smaller, unusual looking bearded fellow is known as “Bes”. Bes was a part dwarf, part lion. He was also a god. The Ancient Egyptians worshipped many gods and goddesses. They believed that a god or goddess looked after each different part of their lives. Bes was worshipped as a protector of households, in particular of mothers and children and childbirth. There was also a god called Taweret who was a giant bipedal hippopotamus with limbs like a cat who also looked after women in childbirth and fertility. In later years, Bes came to be regarded as the defender of everything that is good, and enemy of all that is bad. He symbolised all the good things in life; such as music, dance, and love. Ancient Egyptians would sometimes wear a statue of Bes as an amulet around their neck, often with beads made from faience, or precious stones. Amulets of Bes were also left in the tombs of wealthy Egyptians. This statue of Bes is also made from faience.

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