Requires Photography

Shawabty fragment

Nubian
Napatan Period


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Gebel Barkal, B501

Dimensions

Overall: 7.8 x 3.7 x 2.7 cm (3 1/16 x 1 7/16 x 1 1/16 in.)

Accession Number

20.2310

Medium or Technique

Faience black glaze

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty of an unidentified queen. The female figure wears a bag wig. The shawabty is uninscribed. The arms are crossed and the hands are right over left. One hoe is held in the right hand resting on the left shoulder and the left hand holds a cord to a small bag slung over the right shoulder. There is a back pillar and a base. This figure is missing the lower legs and feet. The right hand, arm, and side of wig are chipped, and the face is worn. There are fissures on the left cheek, and from the right ear to the hands. It has consolidation. It is colored black with glaze.

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) Gebel Barkal B501. 1920: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA by the government of the Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition