The California Patrons have funded the restoration of a 3000 year old decorated wooden box from ancient Egypt. The ushabti box served as a container for small statues which were buried in the tombs of important nobles. Ancient Egyptians believed the statuettes would perform work for the deceased in the afterlife, such as agricultural labors. The word “ushabti” translates as “the one who answers.” The statuettes answered the call of the noble person buried in the tomb to serve as directed. This ushabti box dates from the Third Intermediate Period (1070- 712 BC), a time of deep economic turmoil in the history of Egypt. Consequently, funerary equipment was often reused. The five panels that constitute the box came from a decorated wooden yellow coffin, which were reassembled as a rectangular box with wooden pegs in the joints. The box measures 32.5 x 32 x 31 centimeters. As a result of its history, the decoration of the box is not consistent and reflects its recycled pedigree.
The wood panels of the box were disassembled and damaged, particularly from insect infestation which resulted in holes, particle erosion, and the loss of wooden supports. Cracks and fissures predominated and colors had disappeared in several areas. Dirt and debris covered all the surfaces of the panels. After an detailed analysis by the Scientific Research Laboratory of the Vatican Museums, the restorers identified the provenance of the wood and the types of pigments used to decorate the panels. Then the restorers wrapped the panels in a plastic bag, removing the oxygen and introducing azotes, which acts as an insecticide. The process took several weeks to ensure that all insects and their eggs were eradicated. Afterwards, the restorers consolidated each panel, fixed the cracks and fixtures, and thoroughly cleaned all surfaces areas. The paint was restabilized and the restorer performed a reversible touch-up of the missing colors. The ushabti box is now reassembled and restored to the Egyptian collection.