Requires Photography

Shawabty fragments

Nubian
Napatan Period
750–270 B.C.


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Meroe, Beg. S 42 under stones of surface debris

Dimensions

Largest: 4.7 x 3.3 cm (1 7/8 x 1 5/16 in.) Smallest: 0.5 x 0.4 cm (3/16 x 3/16 in.)

Accession Number

21-2-125

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a tray of 42 fragments of shawabtys. Included are a head fragment and a foot fragment. There are traces of a worn text in black including framed horizontal registers of text encircling the body and a vertical register up the front. There is no back pillar or base. The Object Register says that these fragments are from 2 shawabtys.

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

From Nubia (Sudan), Meroe Beg. S 42 (tomb of an unidentified queen) under stones of surface 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.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition