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Ipi's Story

The Shabti's Story

Listen to the Shabti's story here or download the text of all story summaries as a Word doc.

Shabti’s story – from workshop, to tomb, to grave robber, to market, to collector, to museum. Follow the story of the Shabti over thousands of years as it wakes to the sound of excited chatter, squealing and laughter.

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It is modern day, and we are at the Leeds Discovery Centre.  In a box, on a shelf, nestled amongst racks of other artefacts, a shabti is sleeping soundly.

A school party arrives led by a curator, and the shabti awakes…he is not happy!  He knows the score, he will be taken out of his box, held up, inspected, and worst of all, discussed in a most impertinent manner However on this occasion the group moves on; they are not here to see him after all.  In fact they are going to view some other shabtis over on rack seven!

He consoles himself by reflecting on how unique he is, despite being an apprentice piece, and how the curators who work here don’t have a clue.  He is designed to answer the call of the Gods to work in the afterlife in place of the Pharaoh.  That’s what his hieroglyphs say at least, but it’s not what he thinks!  His motto is “leave me to sleep”; there were plenty of other shabtis in the tomb who could answer the call of the Gods in his place.

Colour photograph of a painting of lots of Ancient Egyptians doing different kinds of building work.
Craftsmen at Work on a Tomb

However it hasn’t quite worked out that way over the past few thousand years, and his mind wanders back to all the things that have interrupted his sleep over time. First there were the craftsmen who came a few years after the tomb was sealed looking for gold for Ramesses’ palaces.  Then came the graverobbers, smashing their way in, looking for anything of value. They caused such destruction, throwing the shabti across the chamber, breaking his nose off for a second time, even setting some of the other shabtis alight to use as torches. 

Colour photograph showing vertical columns of hieroglyphs painted in green, yellow and red.
Hieroglyphs from the Tomb of Seti I

Then after a snooze of perhaps a thousand years or so, there came the Italian explorer, Belzoni, clearing the tomb of everything he could lay his hands on, including the shabti, who was carried out into the light of day, passed from hand to hand, ending up being sold on the banks of the River Nile.

The shabti’s memories fade and we are back in the centre where he settles himself down for a doze once more.  He is interrupted by the return of the curator, and this time she is with someone.  They come over to his shelf, lift him out of his box and talk about how he is to be taken to the museum to go on display at an exhibition.  He is overjoyed, perhaps these curators do know what they are talking about after all, he thinks.  This is his moment, he has been called by the Gods…at last!

Glossary

Mass-produced – something made in large quantities

Motto – a short sentence summing up someone’s beliefs

Exhibition – a display of things that are of interest to the public

Faience – a type of glass-like material used to make objects, the word means ‘dazzling’ or ‘shining’

Curator – people who look after collections of objects and artworks at museums, galleries and libraries

Humidity – the amount of water in the air

Magnification – making something look bigger than it really is

 

Activity ideas

  1. You are now a journalist who will cover the opening of a new exhibition at Leeds City Museum. On prominent display is a small wooden figurine – a shabti – an object that is often overlooked.  What is it about this shabti that makes it so unique?  As a journalist you are tasked with writing an (online) article about the shabti, that will be accompanied by images and will need an attention grabbing headline.  You will have the chance to interview the curator, who is in charge of the exhibition, to find out a little more so you must carefully prepare your questions.
  2. Your teacher will become the curator. The curator is very busy and only has a short amount of time to speak with journalists so make sure that every question counts!
  3. Now write an award winning article for the opening of the exhibition.