Anthropoid busts of this type, known only from the New Kingdom (Dynasties XVIII–XX), are often described as effigies of deceased family members. Frequently uninscribed and nonindividualizing in appearance, they have been found throughout Egypt, but especially at Deir el Medineh in western Thebes. Although they are commonly said to have come from houses, some have been found in tombs and others may have been deposited in temples. They are thought to have been the focus of ancestor worship; supposedly they received requests for protection and other assistance. However, because we do not know where they come from in all instances, we cannot be certain of this interpretation. They may have served a variety of purposes.
According to a recent hypothesis, they may have been "ancestor busts" only secondarily. In origin they may have represented various living members of a family (or even deities in rare examples) and sat in wall niches of houses. After the death of the person depicted, the effigy was supposedly deposited in his or her tomb. There, because of its original connection with the living, it may have played an important role in the rebirth of the dead. The multicolored collar and blue wig on many of these busts do have symbolic connotations of transformation to an afterlife. Because some of the busts have been found in temples, they may also have been objects of piety.
This theory holds that the busts did not require individualizing features because the living family members obviously recognized themselves. But what purpose would the statuettes have served while the subjects were alive? Furthermore, would the stereotyped features not have led to confusion if several busts were set up In the same house? ExampJes of a much more Individualizing nature may have existed much earlier, In the Old Kingdom (Dynasties IV–VI) The New Kingdom busts would then represent revivals with conventional features.
Painted limestone bust of a woman of “ancestral bust” type. Details of eyes probably were painted, ears pierced; lappet wig with traces of blue paint, surmounted by “modius” painted red. Remains of large painted necklace which covered most of body area, with red tie-string on reverse. Condition: Paint largely lost. Rear of wig broken. Minor chips.