Shawabty fragment of unidentified queen
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Meroe, Beg. S. 88 floor debris
Overall: 4.2 x 3.3 cm (1 5/8 x 1 5/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a leg fragment of a shawabty of an unidentified queen. There are three framed horizontal lines of black painted text encircling the body and one vertical column of text up the center of the front. It is made of red-bodied faience.
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.
From Nubia (Sudan), Meroe Beg. S. 88 (tomb of an unidentified queen) floor debris. 1921: 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