Requires Photography

Shawabty of an unidentified queen

Nubian
Napatan Period, reign of Tanwetamani (?)
664–653 B.C.


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, Pyramid 61, in debris

Dimensions

Overall: 7.1 cm (2 13/16 in.)

Accession Number

21.13556

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty belonging to an unidentified queen. The female figure wears a bag wig which is indicated by an incised line on the back. There is no uraeus. The shawabty is uninscribed. The mummiform figure does not have a back pillar, but there is a small base. The arms are crossed right over left, a 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 bag is indicated by a simple ‘u’ shaped incised line. The figure is half moulded and the back is smoothed. The object was broken in two pieces and is not mended.

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.

Provenance

From Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, Pyramid 61 (tomb of Queen ?) in debris.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