The Egyptians believed that individuals were made up of five parts: the ba, the ka, the name, the shadow and the physical body. See Harrington for a good summary of ideas concerning the ba. According to Žabkar there is no exact equivalent of the term ba in English. It is similar to our idea of personality but also referred to power and was extended to the gods. However, the ba only became manifest after the person had died (others disagree). It had the power to travel about freely. The term ba was also used as the physical representation of certain gods. For example, the Apis bull was the ba of Osiris.
Thee ba was often shown as a bird, whose duty was to feed the deceased. The ba was so closely linked with the physical body that it needed food and drink. The ba depended upon the corpse with which it had to be reunited each night.
The wooden ba-bird in the tomb of Tutankhamun is probably the earliest of its type. Most ba-bird statues date from the Saite Period to the second century AD. They were probably placed on shrines or coffins. Spell 89 of the Book of the Dead recommended that a golden ba bird be placed on the chest of the mummy to ensure that the ba was reunited with the body.
The ba-bird statues on display with the human type bodies and solar discs on their heads (see below) are of a style more likely to have come from Meroe in Nubia than Egypt. However, it is not unknown for Egyptian ba-birds to carry solar disks (Kaper 2009)
Most of the ba-birds on display in the Centre, like others, are made of wood, coated with gesso and painted. As you see they wear black wigs with lappets on their chest and a wesekh or broad collar. Such figures would have been placed on the tops of shrines or upon the posts of coffins. Many have broken dowel fragments in the base suggesting attachment to another object.
There is also a representation of the ba-bird with the deceased on our 21st Dynasty coffin.
Harrington, N. 2013. Living with the Dead. Ancestor Worship and Mortuary Ritual in Ancient Egypt. Oxford and Oakville: Oxbow Books, 3-7.
Kaper, O.E. 2009. ‘A fragment from the Osiris Chapels at Dendera in Bristol’. Jaarbericht van het vooraziatisch-egyptisch genootschap Ex Oriente Lux, 41, 29-45.
Žakbar, L.V. 1968. A Study of the Ba Concept in Ancient Egyptian Texts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.