Background: An Ancient Egyptian Artisan Apprentice talks about his first job. Ipi’s story begins with Ipi as an old man, talking with his apprentice in his workshop in the craftsman’s village of Deir El Medina in the Valley of the Kings. He recalls making his first ever Shabti when he was apprenticed as a child to his uncle, a master carpenter. It was in the days following the unexpected death of Pharaoh Seti 1st and the whole valley had been thrown into mayhem as the builders, painters, masons and carpenters rushed to complete the tomb.
Carried by Ipi’s memories, we travel back in time to the year 1279BCE. Young Ipi, a boy now, is in the workshop carving a shabti, one of a thousand similar figures needed for the Pharaoh’s tomb, when, with a slip of the hand he accidently knocks off the tip of its nose. The tip flies across the workshop and lands in the lap of Paneb, one of the other craftsmen, and the room erupts into laughter. Full of shame, Ipi flees, running out into the valley and up onto a high ridge, where he finds a hiding place in an empty hut belonging to the watchman Menes.
As Ipi sits alone, he reflects on how difficult he has found carving his first ever shabti. He recalls how he didn’t want to be a carpenter in the first place – he wanted to follow his father and brother Khufu to become a tomb painter. Instead, he was apprenticed to his uncle, and with little preparation left to get on with carving the shabti all by himself. He tries to comfort himself by remembering some of his more successful efforts, practicing carving a shabti spell on an old block of wood and memorising text from the Book of the Dead, he also reflects on how he got off to a good start with his shabti, carving its hands, tools and hieroglyphs reasonably well. He thinks about his uncle and how he’s so skilled that the faces he carves look like they will come to life. Then he remembers his own attempts to carve the nose, the tip flying through the air and laughter filling the room, and his feelings of embarrassment come flooding back.
It is then that Ipi hears his name being called from outside the hut, it is his uncle! He hides under the bench, but as his uncle opens the door he is spotted immediately. His uncle laughs as he tells him to come out and show him the shabti. Ipi reluctantly hands it over, telling his uncle how rubbish it is. His uncle tells him they will simply glue the nose tip back on with some resin. Ipi protests saying he wants it to be perfect, and uncle laughs again, telling him that he has the foreman breathing down his neck, and no time to waste on such small matters. He reassures Ipi that he will improve with each shabti he makes and sends him back to the workshop where another block of juniper wood is waiting for him to start carving his next shabti.
Ipi’s story ends back in the workshop with old Ipi and his apprentice once again – Ipi shares with the boy that he has now learnt that it was the imperfections of his first shabti that made it beautiful… just as will be the case for his young pupil when the time comes.
Craftsman – a skilled worker who makes items that can be used both for decoration and to do a specific job
Carpenter – a person who makes wooden objects and structures
Tomb – a room or space underground for burying the dead
Chisel – a tool used for cutting or carving wood
Mallet – a large hammer
Hoe – a gardening tool with a thin metal blade used for digging
Hieroglyphs – Ancient Egyptian writing that uses pictures instead of words
Workshop – a room where objects are made
Foreman – a person in charge of a group of workers
Apprentice – a person learning a job from someone who is skilled in it, often for little money
- Create a character profile for Ipi, starting with what you have learnt from the audio story. You could think about his strengths, weaknesses and super powers, a bit like a Top Trumps card! What other detail could you add using your imagination, or further research and drama work you have already done?
- Based on Ipi’s review of his handiwork in the audio story, and the role play between Ipi and Khufu from the Using Drama for Learning section, write instructions for a new apprentice on how to carve a shabti figurine.
- Using the locations mentioned in the audio story, map the Valley of the Kings considering both the human and physical features e.g. what terrain does Ipi cross to get to Menes’ hut, what would be needed to supply Deir El Medina (the craftsman’s village), how might the materials required to build and decorate Pharaoh Seti’s tomb be transported into the valley?