Fragment of a shawabty of King Taharqa
Napatan Period, reign of Taharqa
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 1
Overall: 17 x 9.1 cm (6 11/16 x 3 9/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a head and torso fragment of a shawabty of King Taharqa. The figure wears the king’s nemes headdress with uraeus and has a long beard. Here the hands are opposed and the arms are not crossed. The king holds the implements of rulership, the flail on the right shoulder and the crook on the left. This face is unusual as it has plastic eyebrows on both sides and a clear cosmetic eyeline on the upper lid on the figure’s left side only. The cosmetic eyeline on the right seems to be unfinished. There are remains of six partial horizontal lines of incised unframed hieroglyphic text on the front of body, it does not extend to the back of the figure. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. The fragment is missing the right side of the torso as well and the lower legs and foot section as well as most of the back. The object is broken in six pieces, five are now mended. The right side of the nemes is not attached.
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, Pyramid 1 (tomb of Taharqa). 1917: excavated by the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA in the division of finds by the government of the Sudan.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition