Requires Photography

Shawabty

Nubian
Napatan Period, reign of Senkamanisken
643–623 B.C.


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 81

Dimensions

Overall: 9.3 x 3.2 cm (3 11/16 x 1 1/4 in.)

Accession Number

21.3183

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty belonging to an unidentified queen. The female figure wears a bag wig. The shawabty is uninscribed. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar, though it does have a base. The arms are crossed and the hands are positioned right over left. One hoe is held in the right hand and rests on the left shoulder, the left hand holds a cord which normally is attached to a small bag slung over the right shoulder. This figure, however, has no seed bag on its back. “N.M. 11” is written in black ink on the back. The object was broken in two pieces and is not mended. The figure is covered in a whitish glaze and is chipped all over. The object is very worn and no base is visible.

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.

Provenance

From Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 81 (tomb of an unidentified queen). 1918: excavated by the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA in the division of finds by the government of Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition