Shabtis (funerary statuettes) have always been popular souvenirs for visitors to Egypt. As early as the 1830s, Egyptians were exploiting this demand by producing fake shabtis.
This statuette was probably passed off as a royal shabti – one found only in the tombs of royalty. Its royal attributes are relatively convincing. They include the crook and flail in crossed hands, the false beard, and the cartouche (royal inscription). What exposes the figure as a forgery is the way in which it was created.
Unlike genuine shabtis, the figure isn’t made from stone, wood, metal, or faience (a glazed non-clay ceramic material) but rather from Nile silt. As such, it can break easily. It also lacks detail on the sides and back, indicating that the forger used a one-piece mould – not the two-piece mould used to make genuine shabtis. In addition, the figure displays marks caused by smoothing the surface with a knife.
Other hallmarks of forgeries include incorrect proportions, unintelligible inscriptions, and mismatched attributes, although this particular figure doesn’t appear to exhibit such errors.
Nile marl (silt)
Probably from Lower Egypt
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, gift of A J Bland, 1968