Requires Photography

Shawabty of an unidentified queen

Nubian
Napatan Period, reign of King Nastasen
328–308 B.C.


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 56

Dimensions

Overall: 12.4 x 3.4 cm (4 7/8 x 1 5/16 in.)

Accession Number

21.16180

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty belonging to either Queen Sakhmakhur or Queen Pelkha. The figure wears the king’s nemes headdress with uraeus and has a long beard. The shawabty is uninscribed. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. The arms are not crossed, the hands are positioned right above left. No seed bag cord or implements are visible, but the object has a seed bag in the center of the back. The upper half of the torso, the head and the feet are missing.

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), Nuri, Pyramid 56 (tomb of an unidentified 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 Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition