Shawabty

Egyptian
New Kingdom, Dynasty 18–20
1550–1070 B.C.


Findspot: Egypt, Nag el-Deir(?)

Dimensions

Height x width: 17.5 x 7.2 cm (6 7/8 x 2 13/16 in.)

Accession Number

12.1191a-b

Medium or Technique

Limestone

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is the upper portion of a limestone shawabty. It depicts a mummiform figure wearing a tripartite wig. Its hands are crossed opposite at the chest and combined, holding implements of field work that were rendered in red paint that is now partially worn away. The right hand holds a hoe against the left shoulder, and the left hand also holds a hoe, though this is not totally clear due to wear. The legs carry four (of possibly 5-6 original) horizontal bands of incised hieroglyphic text. Traces of color remain: a drab yellow on the legs, black on the wig, and red bands in the hair. The lower legs and feet have broken away. The surviving fragment was broken in two but has been mended.

An ancient Egyptian shawabty is a funerary figurine that was intended 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 length 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.

Provenance

From Naga el-Deir (?). 1912: excavated by the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA by the government of Egypt in the division of finds. (Accession Date: December 5, 1912)

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition