Requires Photography

Shawabty of an unidentified queen

Napatan Period, reign of Karkamani
519–510 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 30


Overall: 14.4 x 4.9 cm (5 11/16 x 1 15/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty of an unknown Queen. The female figure wears a tripartite wig with uraeus. The arms are not crossed, the hands are held right above left. In each hand the figure holds a hoe. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. The object was broken in ten pieces and is not mended. The face and uraeus are worn. “XXX” is wirtten on the bottom of the foot in black ink.

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 30 (tomb of unknown Queen). 1918: 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