Fragment of a shawabty
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Nu 26 (?)
Overall: 2.5 x 3 cm (1 x 1 3/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a fragment consisting of the back pillar and base of a shawabty, possibly of Queen Amanitakaye When complete the female figure wears the queen’s vulture headdress over the tripartite wig. The arms are not crossed, the hands are held right above left. In each hand the figure holds a hoe. In addition the left hand holds a cord to a seed bag which is slung over the left shoulder. There are seven horizontal lines of incised text encircling the body. The text is framed and there is a single line up the center of the back dividing the text. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. Although the provenance is uncertain, it resembles shawabtys of Queen Amanitakaye.
The ancient Nubians included shawabtys in their tombs only in the Napatan Period, about 750–270 B.C. These funerary figurines are based on Egyptian shawabtys, but differ from them in many features of their iconography. For instance, the known Nubian examples are only from royal tombs. Also, they have unique texts, implements, poses and are known to have the largest number of shawabtys included in one tomb. Their function, it is assumed, was the same as that of the Egyptian shawabty, namely to magically animate in the Afterlife in order to act as a proxy for the deceased when called upon to tend to field labor or other tasks. This expressed purpose was sometimes written on the shawabty itself in the form of a “Shawabty Spell,” of which versions of various lengths are known. Shorter shawabty inscriptions could also just identify the deceased by name and, when applicable, title(s). However, many shawabtys carry no text at all. The ideal number of such figurines to include in a tomb or burial seems to have varied during different time periods.
From Nubia (Sudan) Nuri Nu 26 (?) Excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA by the government of the Sudan.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition