Shabti figurines are among the most common Egyptian objects in museum collections. The most prevalent royal shabtis you are likely to encounter are those of King Sety I (c. 1294-79 BC). Estimates vary, but it is probable that Sety had over a thousand shabtis – the largest number of any New Kingdom king. Different materials were used for the shabtis, including faience, alabaster and steatite – but the most common material was wood.
After his 1817 discovery of the tomb of Sety I in the Valley of the Kings (KV17), the Italian strongman explorer Giovanni Belzoni (1778-1823) 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 of some examples 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. Sety’s assemblage must originally have represented the most extensive provision of royal shabtis, varying considerably in quality of craftsmanship. Tutankhamun had a much richer and finely produced collection numbering some 413 shabtis, which is often interpreted as a ‘complete set’ – representing one for every single day of the year (365) plus one for each week of 10 days (36) and an extra one for each month of the