Requires Photography

Shawabty of an unidentified queen

Nubian
Napatan Period, reign of an unidentified king.
362–342 B.C.


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 51

Dimensions

Overall: 4.3 x 3.2 cm (1 11/16 x 1 1/4 in.)

Accession Number

17-12-131

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is an upper half fragment of a shawabty of an unidentified queen. When complete this type consists of the following: The female figure wears a tripartite wig. The shawabty is uninscribed. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar. The arms are not crossed, the hands are positioned right above left. In each hand the figure holds a hoe. In addition the left hand holds a cord to a seed bag. This particular figure is lacking a seed bag on the back, though the cord on the front is visible. There is some mud encrusted on the front of this figure and a crack on the left side of the wig. There are also fissures on the left side of the torso.

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 51 (tomb of an unidentified queen). 1917: 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