Life, Death, (After)Life

A view of bright pink display graphic in a museum wall case with items from Ancient Egypt

Life, Death, (After)Life

Nothing Without Us: Experiences of Disability Trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Treatment of the Dead in Ancient Egypt Display, Case 7A, Ground Floor.


Death is not always the end of the body; it can be preserved, repurposed, become something new. Archaeologists study Egyptian mummified human remains as a way of understanding more about life in Ancient Egypt when in reality mummification marked a new phase of life altogether. How can the study of disabled Ancient Egyptians, in life and in death, help us re-evaluate our modern attitudes to disability?

 Personal Assistants for the Afterlife

A small pottery model of a person with their arms folded across their chest, with hieroglyphs inscribed along the body below the arms.

Shabti Figure. Glazed Pottery, Ancient Egypt. Donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884. PRM 1884.57.11

Ancient Egyptians were expected to work, even in the Afterlife. As a disabled person who can't work, I am aware of how work is used to give meaning to people. Shabtis were included in Egyptian burials to do their work for them. They were an expression of care and ensured the dead person was able to contribute even if too old, tired or disabled to work. The Egyptians believed that the deceased could bring them to life by speaking the prayer inscribed on their bodies.

Rachel C., in need of a Shabti!


View the collections entry for the shabti with zoomable image.

Life, Transition, and Onions

Onions were highly regarded by the Ancient Egyptians. Their concentric circles seen as representations of the universal cycle of life, death and rebirth to which all living things - humans, animals, even deities - were bound. Many surviving pieces of Ancient Egyptian literature touch upon this theme, marking significant moments of transition, such as growing old. These moments could be scary - as these opening lines from the Teachings of Ptahhotep show - but they were to be accepted, and carefully prepared for. 

Juliet E. and Kyle J. 


This display also includes an artwork of onion-dyed paper printed with excerpts from the Teachings of Ptahhotep, (Ancient Egyptian, Middle Kingdom). The text is provided below with the translation by Stephen Quirke, available online via the Digital Egypt resource provided by the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.


O my sovereign
Old Age has struck, age has descended,
Feebleness has arrived, weakness is here again.
Sleep is upon him in discomfort all day.
Eyes are grown small, ears deaf,
Mouth silent, unable to speak,
Heart emptied, unable to recall yesterday.
Bones ache his whole length.
Goodness has turned to evil.
All taste is gone.
What old age does to people is evil in every way.
Nose is blocked, unable to breathe,
how old (it feels) standing or sitting.
Let a staff of old age be decreed to be made for this humble servant.
Let him be told the speech of those who assess,
the advice of the ancestors once hear by the gods.
Then the same may be done for you, 
strife may be removed from the populace,
and the Two Shores may toil for you.




Ground Floor Plan of Pitt Rivers Museum showing display locations and pink spot highlighting trail stop

Plan of the museum's ground floor showing this trail location in the right outer aisle on the main court, in a wall display case about halfway down the aisle.

View a small pottery mould used for the creation of amulets depicting the ancient Egyptian god Bes on the Curating for Change online collections webpage. This object is part of the collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum and is included in the "Fashioning Bodies in the Ancient World" display, curated by Kyle Lewis Jordan at the Ashmolean Museum.


This co-produced gallery trail was developed in partnership with the Curating for Change project. Supported by Accentuate and Screen South, the project provides opportunities for D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent people to pursue a curatorial career in museums.

Find out more about Curating for Change


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