Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Using Objects for Learning

This is the image of the shabti which is the focus of this resource – it is currently on display at Leeds City Museum.

Colour photograph of a carved figurine with hieroglyphs
Shabti Figurine from the Tomb of Seti I

It was found in the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I. 

Shabti are carved figures who were placed in tombs during funerals to accompany the dead to the afterlife.

They were made in workshops from various materials including; faience, wax, clay, wood, stone and terracotta. Wood was not a common material in Ancient Egypt as there weren’t many trees. It had to be imported, so was more expensive than it is today. Wooden and stone shabti would have to be carved individually.

This Shabti is unusual as it is made of juniper wood. Shabti like this were covered in a varnish that made them very flammable, so often they were used as flame torches by grave robbers or visitors to tombs!

Colour image of an Egyptian carving  of a man holding a staff and surrounded by hieroglyphs
Image of Seti I from his Temple in Abydos

Egyptians believed that you would continue to live in the afterlife, although you couldn’t get sick or die. Each shabti was carved with a ‘spell’ for a particular job that needed doing. For example, some shabti were carved carrying hoes, showing that they were expected to farm for their owners in the afterlife.

The more shabti you had, the less work you would have to do in the afterlife. The number of shabti that are found with a mummified body can tell you how important and wealthy the tomb’s owner was.

Our Shabti’s story starts on the shelves of the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre. The Discovery Centre stores over one million artefacts not on permanent display at the museum.  It is also where the curators and conservators are based.

You can see an image of the Discovery Centre collection store, and some of the artefacts held there below.

Colour photograph showing a view of the museum store, with a dress ,boxes  and shelves of objects.
Leeds Discovery Centre Store

Museum Acquisition and Storage Information

Museums have to have detailed records of each object in their collection. This acquisition record describes the object in detail including its date, its dimensions and the material it is made from. It is also important for museums to know in detail where the object has come from and who it has belonged to. Museums call this the object’s Provenance.

Why do you think Provenance is so important for a museum?