Requires Photography

Shawabty of an unidentified queen

Napatan Period, reign of Shabaka
712–698 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, Pyramid 62


Overall Smallest: 1.2 cm (1/2 in.) Overall Largest: 3 cm (1 3/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

These are 24 fragments of type c shawabtys belonging to an unidentified queen. There are 7 torso, 4 leg plus foot, 3 leg and 3 miscellaneous fragments. This type is characterised by a female figure which wears a tripartite wig. The female figure supports a basket on her head with the left hand and holds a hoe on the right shoulder with the right hand. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. The shawabty is uninscribed. It has a smooth back without wigline.

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), el-Kurru, Ku. 62 (tomb of Queen?). 1919: excavated by the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA in the division of finds by the government of the Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition