Canopic jars

Lynellen Perry
Bith 331
February 7, 1992
Museum paper

Image from

My favorite color is blue, so when I saw the gorgeous blue glazed statuettes enclosed in the tombs and the blue glazed scarabs, I knew that I wanted to learn more about them. The statuettes are called Ushabtis or Shawabtis and are usually made of stone, covered in glaze. Originally these statues were made to represent the dead person with his face and hair in black detail. However, in the 21st Dynasty, the Ushabtis are short and stumpy instead of being representative of the shape of the deceased (Murray, 123). They do not have distinct arms or legs, but have simply the characteristic man-shaped coffin look.

On the body of this roughly human shape then, are vertical lines of inscriptions in black. Murray says that the Ushabtis' inscriptions always contained the owner's name and that, in later times, they also had the sixth chapter of the Book of the Dead inscribed on them. This chapter "states that when the deceased is called upon by Osiris to till the fields, to fill the runnels with water, and to carry sand from east to west in the Other World, the figure shall answer in his stead" (Murray, 123). Thus we see that these statues had evolved from representations of the deceased to servant figures for the next life.

The beautiful and brilliant blue glaze on the Ushabtis I also saw on small scarab amulets. The scarab amulet was used both as a seal, with engraving on the flat bottom, and as a charm to be worn by the living for protection by the power of a divine name, or wrapped in the bandages of mummies. This is appropriate since the scarab was meant to represent the beetle shaped god Khepri who was the Existent One who could impart existence to others (the word for beetle in Egyptian is Kheper). Apparently, the scarabaeus-beetle, the dung beetle, was chosen to be sacred and represent resurrection because they lay their eggs in dung or in the dead bodies of other dung beetles, from which life is seen coming out of death as the young beetles crawled out of the old bodies. The beetle is important in Egyptian theology for "he pushes the ball of the Sun into the Other World in the evening; . . . waits in the Other World to revivify the dead Sun, when the soul of Re and the soul of Khepri are united; and in the morning he . . . pushes the ball of the sun over the horizon of the earth" (Murray, 230).

The earliest scarabs only contain royal names; those in the Middle Kingdom contain spiral designs "arranged in intricate and beautiful patterns" (Murray, 230); the New Kingdom scarabs have designs and names of god and goddesses, perhaps indicating that these were mass produced and sold at shrines as souvenir charms (like they are sold in the Chicago museums today); and the Late period scarabs are simply charms. The scarabs made for the dead are different from those just described. These typically do not have a flat base with a design, but actually have the carved legs of the insect so that they clearly are representing the sacred beetle. Scarabs made for the dead sometimes did have inscriptions though--the Chapter of the Heart from the Book of the Dead (Murray, 231).

Egyptians have been masters of glazing since the earliest times, according to Murray (184). The blues or greens, the colors of turquoise or lapis lazuli have always been used, with the deepest and richest blues being obtained at the kilns of Deir el Bahri (Murray, 185). Usually the glaze was applied on solid quartz, steatite (a kind of soapstone), or a mixture of quartz sand or powdered rock crystal bound with "a weak solution of natron or salt" so that it could be worked with the hands or molded (Wilson, 17). The blue glaze itself was an alkali glaze made by heating sand, natron or plant ash, and copper compounds and fused to the object by heating (ibid). Even though these ancient artisans never glazed metal to make enamel, or glazed earthenware, he still created an eye-catching piece of art.


Murray, Margaret A. The Splendor that was Egypt. New York: Praeger Publishers , 1964.

Wilson, Eva. Ancient Egyptian Designs for Artists and Craftspeople. New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 1986.