The oldest proof of the existence of funerary servants dates to
the early 11th Dynasty. Such figurines were originally called shawabti. First made of wax, and later carved in wood or alabaster, such servants were supposed to replace the bodies of the deceased if they happened to disappear or be damaged. The word’s root, shawab, refers to the persea, a fruit tree, which suggests that the statuettes were initially created in wood. It was during the 12th Dynasty that the task of substituting for the deceased in performing manual labour was given to the statuettes, which would then become very popular. The term shabti, meaning “answerer,” – from shab, “answer” – appeared when Pinedjem II was the high priest of Amun (about 990-969 B.C.E.). To begin with, the number of funerary figurines was limited, but during the first millennium B.C.E. some deceased individuals would be accompanied by over 400 statuettes: 365 answerers (one for each day of the year), supervised by 36 stewards.