Shawabty of an unidentified queen
Napatan Period, reign of Senkamanisken
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 82
Overall: 6.8 x 2.1 cm (2 11/16 x 13/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a shawabty belonging to an unidentified queen. The female figure wears a tripartite wig. The shawabty is uninscribed. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar, though it does have a base. The hands are opposed and the arms are not crossed. In each hand the figure holds a hoe and a cord to a small bag slung over each shoulder. There are no bags visible on the back of the shawabty, however. “N.M. 12” is written in black ink on the back. The object was broken in 2 pieces and is mended. The left hand and right side of foot are chipped and there is a chip missing from a break in the right lappet. There are 3 small holes in the back of the legs. Some mud is encrusted on the front.
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.
From Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 82 (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.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition