While figures of nude women are often called ‘fertility figurines’, this may be a misnomer as their purpose is not entirely clear. It could be that some, particularly pottery examples, were used in healing. It has thus been suggested that a more correct term would be ‘female figurines’.
Nude female figurines are made of clay and faience, as well as wood. In the past, clay and faience examples shaped in the form of nude women sometimes wearing girdles were called ‘concubine figurines’; it was believed that such items were put in the graves of men to satisfy their sexual needs in the afterlife, and aspects such as the girdle do seem to have sexual connotations. More recent studies have stressed that they are also found in women’s graves, temples and on settlement sites, while those at Amarna were found in the same rooms as domestic altars. Texts suggest that the clay examples were used in healing rites. Some seem to have been deliberately broken, perhaps to ritually ‘kill’ them.
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The Egypt Centre has 4 types of figures which could be classed as fertility figurines. It is possible, and even probable, that the different types may have had different purposes.
EC446 and EC447 are pottery figures
EC875 is part of a faience New Kingdom figurine (Pinch’s type 5)
W769 is a paddle doll
AR50/3490 is a bone Coptic fertility amulet
For more information on female figures in Egypt see Waraksa 2008