University Museum of Bergen

Shabties –helpers in the afterlife

In 2001, the shabties were taken out of store and exhibited. Since then, they have been moving around...

Shabties are, according to Egyptian tradition, small figures that were buried with the deceased. Some of these represented the dead person and served as a replacement for the mummy. Others represented servants who were expected to do the tasks the dead person might be instructed to do in the underworld. In the course of history, figures like these were made from various materials including: wax, wood, clay, stone, ivory, faience, and, occasionally, glass. Shabties became a permanent part of the grave goods in the 12th Dynasty (c. 1900 BC) and were used up until the end of Egypt’s early historical period. Read more in Norwegian...

The Cause

Ever since the Museum’s shabties were put on display on the 3rd floor of the Cultural History Collections, the figures have been displayed in various cabinets, with the exact same result every time. After a while, they are muddled up, and have adopted another posture than the original one. On the shelf below the shabti figures, another group of figures are displayed. These remain passive.

– ‘Some people suspect us of moving them around ourselves. But of course, we are not’, associate professor Frode Storaas, curator of the Museum’s anthropological unit, says.

An explanation as to why the shabties move around may be a great many things. What do you think? Click here to send us your suggestion!

Suggestions received:

- Hi. My name is Erlend and I am five years old. I think there is a magnet inside the Egyptian statues. That is why they move about at night. Regards, Erlend.

- Please send the figures back home to Egypt. Please don’t tease the figures! Man from Eastern Norway.