Napatan Period, reign of Senkamanisken
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 78
Overall: 6.3 x 2.2 cm (2 1/2 x 7/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
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 left above right. One hoe is held in the right hand and rests on the left shoulder, the left hand holds a cord to what would normally be a small bag slung over the right shoulder, though no bag is present here. “N.M. 8” is written in black ink on the back of the figure. The object has turquoise glaze all over it. There is a finger impression on the bottom of the feet. This figure is in very good condition and the glaze is especially well-preserved.
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 78 (tomb of an unidentified queen). 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.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition