Fragment of shawabty of King Shebitka
Napatan Period, reign of Shebitka
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, Pyramid 18
Overall: 2.1 cm (13/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a fragment of the head of a shawabty belonging to King Shebitka. When complete, a shawabty of King Shebitka typically wears a tripartite wig, has a long beard which is often painted black; and has one unframed column of painted text on the front of the figure, which when legible customarily reads ‘Osiris, the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Shebitka.’ The mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. No hands or implements are depicted.
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) el-Kurru, Pyramid 18 (tomb ofKing Shebitka). 1919: 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