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Shawabty fragments of King Taharqa

Napatan Period, reign of Taharqa
690–664 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 42, thieves' hole in stairway


Left: 8.9 cm (3 1/2 in.) Right: 6.3 cm (2 1/2 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Red-brown serpentinized rock

Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

These are two shoulder fragments of a shawabty of King Taharqa. When complete, this type consists of a figure wearing a bulging bag (khat) headdress with uraeus and has a long beard. In each hand the figure holds a hoe and a cord to a small bag slung over each shoulder. The hoe on the right has a narrow blade and the one on the left has a broad blade. The seed bags are incised with diagonal crossed lines forming a diamond pattern. There are nine or ten horizontal lines of incised unframed text on the front of body which do not extend to the back of the figure. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. The right shoulder shows part of a hoe and seedbag and the field number is written on it in black toward the back. The left arm extends to the elbow and shows almost all of one seedbag.

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 1 (tomb of Taharqa), but originally found in Pyramid 42 (tomb of Queen Asata), thieves' hole in the stairway. 1917: 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