Archaeologically charged replicas as the narrative source for manga comics  (by Amanda Ford Spora)

The power of storytelling using manga cartoons is the subject of this latest project of PhD research from Institute of Archaeology UCL, investigating the way teens engage with digitally produced replicas of Kushite Kingdom shabti figurines. The project aims to foster engagement with teens, as members of the youth generational community (Modest 2013: 98) , employing object-based learning investigation methods (Gosden and Marshall 1999, Kador et al. 2017) with 3D print replicas and communication of those objects through manga cartoons. There is a particular focus on the consideration of these replicas as objects seen in their own right (Foster and Jones 2019: 2) and the accessibility to entangled biographies (Joy 2002, Rainbird 1999) of replica and real objects that is made possible through engagement with the replicas. The digitally produced replicas in this research were employed because of the high degree accuracy and likeness to the original object that they manifest. They are produced by ThinkSee3D with a technique that uses a gypsum core colour jet printer. The artefacts are shabti figurines, one belonging to Queen Madiken (object number UC13219) and one to King Senkamanisken (object number MM8576). Currently in collections at the Petrie Museum and Manchester Museum respectively, the real shabtis were excavated at the site of the Kushite Royal Cemetery at Nuri in Sudan and date to the Napatan period (700-300BCE).

Co-creation of a manga_zine

The project resulted in the co-creation of a manga_zine entitled Kushite Kingdom Manga (Figure 1), with two versions produced, a printed comic book and an online e-flip-book (Ford Spora 2022). The manga_zine was developed with teen artists in East London, in collaboration with an art design specialist, Taylor Smith and me as researcher. Graphic novel style manga representation, which uses images and text presented within panels to communicate, was identified in my earlier research as having potential to develop rich narratives. Also, as a medium which is of particular interest to teens, and therefore the reason for this current research.  

For this blog I will discuss two manga from the manga_zine, “The Replica Shabti’s Return” (Ford Spora 2022: 17-20) and one of the quick manga (Ford Spora 2022: 27). The so-called quick manga was produced as part of the earlier phase of research with teens in Australia. They are a single page, produced in just 30 minutes without art and design support and editing, and are accordingly short and quick. This is in contrast with the longer, titled manga within the zine. The identification of manga as a potential innovative communication method employing rich narratives with teens came from this phase of research. The quick manga were a forerunner for the titled manga, they were used as exemplars for the East London teens.

Figure 1 Kushite Kingdom Manga title page with QR code (Ford Spora 2022)

The single page, four panel manga (Figure 2) tells the story of two archaeologists on the site of Nuri in Sudan, as they excavate a shabti belonging to Queen Madiken. The text includes naming the stylistic features that are unique to Kushite shabti’s of Queens. This was part of the Nubian-centred focus from modern scholarship regarding Kushite shabtis (Balanda 2014, Howley 2018).

Manga usually read right to left, similar to reading Arabic language, was one of the reasons I chose to consider it as a way of exploring Sudanese heritage. This directional practice allowed for synchronous formatting in Arabic and English and resulted in the unique stacked bilingual style of the zine. I would like the acknowledge and thank our colleague in Sudan, Osman Khaleel for the translation. The combination of image and text framed within panels, that make use of cinematic perspective techniques, create the narrative, that in this instance build to the climactic reveal, in close-up, of the Kushite Queen shabti. Now, I feel at this juncture I want to talk to you about the proverbial ‘replica’ in the room, as it were. Because you would be correct in thinking that the replica in this quick manga is used as a proxy for the original. Rather than as an object seen in its own right. But I encourage you to continue to the longer manga, to see how the replica maybe seen front and centre.

Figure 2 quick manga from the Kushite Kingdom Manga (Ford Spora 2022: 27)

Repatriation with replicas

Focusing next on the longer manga, the action commences with a pair of researchers in a lab and moves to the site of Madiken’s pyramid at the Royal Cemetery at Nuri, with the intent of taking the replica shabti to the real object’s place of interment. The storyline is a clear example of the replica being seen as an object in its own right, with opening panels (figure 3) outlining steps involved in making a digitally produced replica. The turning point of the plot is derived from the accuracy of the replica, which is shown in the manga

“Wow this replica …. looks so real!”

Figure 3 extract from The Replica Shabti’s Return (Ford Spora 2022: 18)

This prompts the idea to return the replica to the pyramid, as a repatriation, of sorts. With the final comment showing the effect of the shabti’s return

“Now Madiken’s shabti is back home”.

The multi-temporal narrative employs an object biographical approach. There is consideration of the interment of the shabti in the ancient past, the shabti’s removal from the pyramid in the recent past during excavations, as well as current research with the replicas. I know that the astute amongst you may ask why the real shabti was not returned? I acknowledge this is a good question. However, this is a hypothetical narrative created by teens working with replicas who were encouraged to consider their own conclusions. And at the end of the day this is a story about the accuracy of the replica, isn’t it?

There are also other hints within the manga that highlight the investigations with the replica, including one notable small detail in the final stages of the replica return when the text states

“Put the replica standing at the wall of the (sic) burial chamber”

This indicates the unique placement in the burial chamber of Kushite shabtis, as part of the scholarship that considers these figurines from a Nubian centred approach (Balanda 2014, Howley 2018). The comment gives a nod to the objects being connected with Sudan, rather than Egypt.

The artists of this manga in their plenary interview at the Petrie Museum for the launch of the manga_zine when asked about their potential audience made the following comments,

“Manga is very popular with our generation, we read manga and anime, it’s a new way of us gaining information, it’s a lot easier to use”

“The fact that it’s not a lot of writing, and they don’t have to read a lot, they see pictures, you don’t need a long attention space, you can just read it and you know what is going on”

“it’s a way of putting ancient information on a modern way of writing”

This encapsulates the reasons why this medium is worthy of investigation and development.

What’s next?

Future directions of this research include the completion of analysis of teen engagement with the replicas, including the entire manga_zine, and recommendations about the use of replicas to expand accessibility to artefacts of the past and discussions about their relevance in society today. As well as further investigation of manga as an innovative communication method for objects of the past with additional teen audiences.


Balanda, B.: 2014: Protecting the mummy – a reinterpretation of shabtis in Napatan funerary customs. In: Anderson, J. R. & Welsby, D. A. (eds.)  The fourth Cataract and beyond: proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies, Leuven: Peeters, 655-662.

Ford Spora, A. 2022. Kushite Kingdom Manga [edited by Amanda Ford Spora], Mograt Island Archaeological Mission. Available:

Foster, S. M. & Jones, S. 2019. The Untold Heritage Value and Significance of Replicas. Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites, 21, 1-24.

Gosden, C. & Marshall, Y. 1999. The Cultural Biography of Objects. World Archaeology, 31, 169-178.

Howley, K. 2018. Power relations and the adoption of foreign material culture: a different perspective from first-millennium BCE Nubia. Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 17, 18-36.

Joy, J. 2002. Biography of a medal: people and things they value, . In: Schofield, J., Gray Johnson, W. & Beck, C. (eds.) Material Culture: The Archaeology of Twentieth-Centure Conflict London: Routledge, 132-142.

Kador, T., Chatterjee, H. & Hannan, L. 2017. The materials of life: Making meaning through object-based learning in twenty-first century higher education. In: Carnell, B. & Fung, D. (eds.) Developing the Higher Education Curriculum. UCL Press, 60-74.

Modest, W. 2013. Co-curating with Teenages at the Horniman Museum. In: Golding, V. & Modest, W. (eds.) Museums and communities curators, collections and collaboration London: New York : Bloomsbury, 98-109.

Rainbird, P. 1999. Entangled biographies: Western Pacific ceramics and the tombs of Pohnpei. World Archaeology, 31, 214-224.

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