Tag Archives: shabti

Zahed Taj-Eddin’s ‘Shabtis: Suspended Truth’, 1 April – 30th June 2017

Zahed Taj-Eddin’s ‘Shabtis: Suspended Truth’ to feature at Manchester Museum

Responding to the current political debate on the subject of migration, Manchester Museum has commissioned a gallery installation by Syrian-born artist Zahed Taj-Eddin, which reflects on the Museum’s world-class Egyptology collection. Zahed Taj-Eddin was inspired particularly by Manchester Museum’s extensive collection of shabti figurines, which were placed in large numbers in tombs to act as servants for the afterlife. He has previously created 99 faience ceramic ‘Nu’ Shabtis for popular shows at the V&A, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and elsewhere.

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Zahed’s new work places a multitude of his ‘Nu’ Shabti figures in new and unexpected contexts, many suspended as if floating in the main Ancient Worlds gallery space. The focus of the installation is to reflect the experience of migrants on a boat travelling across the Mediterranean towards a new existence.
Zahed said: “For this new installation I decided to suspend my ‘Nu’ Shabtis in the Museum
galleries. They are taking a new journey into time and space; suspended between the past and the present, searching for a new truth, different from the one they were made for. The display invites visitors to think about ancient and modern human issues such as the beliefs and actions that lead us to venture into the unknown and explore a better life beyond.”
Dr Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and Sudan, said: “Our aim in working with Zahed has been to address contentious social questions through the lens of archaeological collections; to use seemingly familiar objects and provoke discussion of big contemporary topics. Zahed’s sculptures are both serious political commentary and enthralling objects in their own right.”
Late Period shabti on white.jpgZahed’s installation is accompanied by a display of more than 250 ancient examples from one of the world’s most important private collections of shabtis, many never seen on public display before.

Narrow and broad bladed hoes on white

Shabtis from the Kemehu Collection

‘Shabtis: Suspended Truth’ will be on view at in Manchester Museum’s Ancient Worlds galleries from the 1 st of April until the 30th of June 2017.

#MMShabtis

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What is missing from the tomb of Tutankhamun?

Keeper of Secrets? Anubis on his shrine

Keeper of Secrets? Anubis on his shrine

The world of archaeology is holding its breath. Will radar results confirm recent claims that there may be more to the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV 62) than it’s discoverer Howard Carter, and most Egyptologists since, believed?

The excitement centres on the claims of English Egyptologist and established authority on Tutankhamun Nicholas Reeves. Reeves is not a crack-pot, which makes the claims all the more exciting. Referring to recent 3D scans by high-tech conservation firm Factum Arte, Reeves identifies the possible traces of two previously undetected doorways leading off the burial chamber of KV 62 – with potentially sensational implications. Not least, that there is an intact storeroom to the west and a continuation of a one-time corridor leading north, perhaps containing the burial of Nefertiti (or, rather ‘Smenkhkare’ as she may have been styled as pharaoh and predecessor of Tutankhamun). Although other scholars have critiqued some of the methods, such as the art historical evaluation of the scenes on Tut’s burial chamber wall, Reeves’ claims seem intriguingly possible. Even if Nefertiti does not lie behind the north wall, two additional (intact) chambers of any size or shape would be of enormous interest.

I recently wrote an article on the objects – other than coffins, sarcophagi and canopics – found in the Kings Valley tombs for a Handbook of the Valley of the Kings. Tutankhamun’s tomb contents are often regarded as a ‘full set’ of objects, despite some losses of valuable items in (limited) robberies. While there are many correspondences between Tutankhamun’s objects and the fragmentary remains found in other tombs, it is interesting to consider what is not represented in Tut’s assemblage.

We know from records on ostraca that tombs were stocked in advance of the royal funeral proper, so this would have allowed time to seal up a storage chamber in the manner of the ‘Annexe’ and of the burial chamber itself. The ‘Treasury’ appears to have been left open in anticipation of the elongated poles used to carry the Anubis shrine.

Ram-headed divine statue from the tomb of Tuthmose III now in the British Museum (EA 50702)

Ram-headed divine statue from the tomb of Tuthmose III now in the British Museum (EA 50702)

One curious category of divine statues is not attested in KV 62, showing fearsome entities with hippo, gazelle or turtle heads. These are known from wooden examples in the tombs of Tuthmose III, Horemheb and Ramesses I, some now in the British Museum. As so often, these wooden sculptures had their precious metal coatings removed either by tomb robbers or during a state-sanctioned sweep of the Valley at the end of the New Kingdom. Tutankhamun’s objects are unique in that they retain their gilding. At a discussion of Tutankhamun’s tomb goods in Cairo in May, Professor Stephen Quirke emphasised the importance of these divinities being in close proximity to the king’s sarcophagus. Might the putative ‘secret’ western chamber contain (fine, gilded) versions of such images?

The number of shabti figures provided for a royal burial seems to have increased steadily during the 18th Dynasty – from the one known example for Ahmose I to the supposedly “complete” set of 413 examples for Tutankhamun. But a couple of generations after Tut, Seti I was given in excess of 1000 examples – so should more shabtis be expected of Tut?

King_Tutankhamun_Guardian_Statue

So-called ‘guardian statue’ of Tutankhamun

Thirty years ago, Reeves drew attention to the fact that no papyri had been found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Drawing analogies with hollow statues containing papyri in the tombs of Amenhotep II, Ramesses I and Seti I, papyrus scrolls might have been secreted in the kilt parts of the so-called ‘guardian statues’ flanking the entrance to the burial chamber. Though X-rays showed no such cavities, the question remains: if they existed at all, where are Tutankhamun’s papyri and what might they contain? While hardly likely to be a diary of the Boy King, they are likely to be funerary texts from an interesting time of religious transition.

While the original intended contents of Tutankhamun’s burial is unknowable, it is an intriguing possibility that further objects may await discovery.

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‘Hidden Treasures’ events: A shabti of Pinudjem II & blue painted pottery

Pinudjem-II

Photo: Glenn Janes

Join Manchester Museum curators and conservation team for Hidden Treasures events , a national initiative to celebrate collections in UK museums and archives. Museum staff will talk about newly acquired objects.

Drop-in, FREE

2-3pm, Collections Study Centre,  Floor 3, all ages

Thursday 22 August: With Curator of Egypt and Sudan, Campbell Price, talking about a shabti of the 21st Dynasty priest-king Pinudjem II.

Friday 23 August: With trainee Curator of Egypt and Sudan, Anna Garnett, talking about blue painted Egyptian pottery, dating to the New Kingdom.

More information on the programme at the Museum Meets blog.

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Object biography #12: A wooden shabti of King Seti I (Acc. no. 13906)

Seti I shabti

Acc. no. 13906. © Glenn Janes

Shabti figures are very popular, especially when they depict royal personages. Some of the most common royal shabtis you are likely to encounter are those of King Seti I (c. 1294-79 BC). Estimates vary, but it is probable that Seti had over 1000 shabtis – the largest number of any New Kingdom king. Materials for the shabtis varied, and included faience, alabaster and steatite – but the most common material was wood.

After his 1817 discovery of the tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings (KV 17), the strongman explorer Giovanni Belzoni gave an account of its contents. He described “scattered in various places, an immense quantity of small wooden figures of mummies six or eight inches long, and covered with asphaltum to preserve them.” Modern analysis has identified the species of wood as juniper. It is said that  many of these resin-coated wooden shabtis – as a convenient, combustible material – were set alight and used as torches by visitors to the tomb! Fortunately, many survived and Egyptian collections across the world now frequently boast one or two examples.

Seti’s assemblage must originally have represented the most elaborate provision of royal shabtis, varying considerably in quality of craftsmanship. But why would a pharaoh need actually need shabtis? As a god king, among other gods in the afterlife, it seems unlikely that the deceased pharaoh would be obliged to actually do any work in the Fields of Reeds.

Shabti of Set I in 'Pharaoh' exhibition

Fine faience shabti of Seti I now in the British Museum. BM EA 22818.

Like many of the objects placed in the royal tomb, they represented an insurance policy for any eventuality. Shabtis had been a standard part of private burial equipment since the Middle Kingdom, and the Egyptians were perhaps inclined to retain the custom rather than do away with it – just in case the king happened to need extra help in the afterlife. By their sheer number, Seti’s army of shabtis seems to echo the large numbers of people the king could command in life. By the New Kingdom, shabtis were conceptualised as servants rather than substitutes for the deceased – so perhaps it was fitting for the pharaoh to have labour at his disposal.

I have a particular fondness for the wooden shabtis of Seti I for another reason. When I was still at school, and already keen to pursue a career in Egyptology and museums, I volunteered at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow. Whilst there, I was privileged to be able to help the curator update catalogue records – focussing on an extensive collection of shabtis. Whilst we were going through the collection, I noticed that one dark wooden example bore a cartouche – though a royal name was not noted on the catalogue card. Upon closer inspection the hieroglyphic elements proved to be ‘Men-maat-Re’ – the Prenomen, or Throne name of Seti I. After consulting a reference book I was very excited to discover one of Seti I’s shabtis in Glasgow… only to discover that there were hundreds all over the world!

I remember wondering why the king took so many shabtis to the grave. Now, I would say without hesitation that the general Pharaonic funerary belief applies: better safe than sorry!

This post is based on part of a chapter that will appear in the Oxford Handbook to the Valley of the Kings, edited by Kent Weeks and Richard Wilkinson.

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Texts in translation #7: The shabti spell of Horudja

Shabti of Horudja. © Glenn Janes

Shabti of Horudja. © Glenn Janes

The Manchester Museum holds 58 pale green faience shabtis belonging to a man named Horudja, a priest of the goddess Neith during the 30th Dynasty (380-343 BC). Horudja’s tomb was discovered by Flinders Petrie at Hawara, near the Faiyum, in 1888. Petrie found 399 shabtis belonging to Horudja, distributed between two niches at either end of the sarcophagus. Many had been damaged by the flooding in the tomb, but most preserve the fine workmanship of a master shabti-maker.

The role of shabtis (or ushabtis, as the word was spelled at Horudja’s time) as servants for the deceased is well-known
. Horudja’s examples are all mummiform in shape. They each hold a pick and a hoe, and have a basket slung over their shoulder to help with their allotted tasks in the afterlife. By inscribing the figures with a text (Book of the Dead chapter 6, the ‘shabti spell’) detailing their obligations, the Egyptians ensured that shabtis could be magically activated in the afterlife.

Shabti spell on Acc. No. 3727b. © Glenn Janes

Shabti spell on Acc. No. 3727b. © Glenn Janes

Horudja’s spell appears in three slightly different versions, this is one of the most typical:

The illuminated one, the Osiris, the Priest of Neith, Horudja, born to Shedet, justified, he says: O these ushabtis, if counted upon, the Osiris, the Priest of Neith, Horudja, born to Shedet, justified, to do all the works that are to be done there in the realm of the dead – now indeed obstacles are implanted there – as a man at his duties, “here I am!” you shall say when you are counted upon at any time to serve there, to cultivate the fields, to irrigate the river banks, to ferry the sand of the west to the east and vice–versa, “here I am” you shall say.

Horudja’s shabtis in Manchester will shortly be published by Glenn Janes. His book, The Shabti Collections 5. A Selection from the Manchester Museum, is due for publication in October – in time for the opening of our Ancient Worlds galleries.

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