Shawabty of King Senkamanisken

Nubian
Napatan Period, reign of Senkamanisken
643–623 B.C.


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 3, Room B south side

Dimensions

Overall: 17.8cm (7in.)

Accession Number

21.3037

Medium or Technique

Serpentinite

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty belonging to King Senkamanisken. The figure wears the king’s nemes headdress with double uraeus and has a plaited beard attached by an incised chin strap. Here the arms are crossed and the hands are directly opposite each other. The figure holds teh crook and flail. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. There are six horizontal lines of incised hieroglyphic text encircling the body. The text is framed and there is a narrow blank area up the center of the back. There is a footmark on the bottom of the foot which is number 10 in Dows Dunham’s typology, updated by Joyce Haynes (MFA, 2008).

The tomb of King Senkamanisken held three large groups of shawaby figurines, large scale faience, small scale faience and the other of a dark brown serpentinite. This shawabty is one of the latter group. Unlike Egyptian royal shawabty figures, those of Senkamaniske have distinctive, almost portraitike features, and the hands of individual artists can be identified.

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), Nuri, Pyramid 3 (tomb of Senkamanisken) Room B south side. 1917: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1921: assigned to the MFA by the government of the Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition