Requires Photography

Shawabty fragment of an unidentified queen

Nubian
Napatan Period
750–270 B.C.


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan)

Dimensions

Overall: 7.8 x 3.9 cm (3 1/16 x 1 9/16 in.)

Accession Number

21.16651

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty fragment belonging to an unidentified queen. The female figure wears a tripartite wig. The shawabty is uninscribed. There is a raised back pillar. 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. The object was broken in 2 pieces and is not mended. The lower legs and feet are missing. There is a hole on the left leg. The nose is chipped and the face is worn. There is a slight incrustation of mud around the face.

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, and 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

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. This object was found in a tray with a card reading "Faience obejcts including shawabtis mostly from Gebel Barkal, some with no numbers which could be from Nuri, Kurru, Kerma or Barkal."

Credit Line

Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition