Shawabty of King Senkamanisken

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


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

Dimensions

Overall: 19.9 x 6.4 cm (7 13/16 x 2 1/2 in.)

Accession Number

21.11751

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 a bulging bag (khat) headdress with uraeus and has a long beard. Here the arms are crossed and the hands are directly opposite each other. The hands and fingers are detailed. In each hand the figure holds a hoe. In addition the left hand holds a cord to a seed bag which is slung over the left shoulder. The seed bag is roughly rectangular, the cord and tassel with forked end are attached to the side of the bag. 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 17 in Dows Dunham’s typology, updated by Joyce Haynes (MFA, 2008).

This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. There are detailed cosmetic eyelines on the brow and the eye. Each shawabty has distinctive, individualized facial features. The right front of the foot is broken and the right uraeus is chipped.

The tomb of King Senkamanisken contained three types of shawabty figures, small scale faience, large scale faience, and dark brown serpentinite.

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 Nuri, Pyramid 3 (tomb of Senkamanisken) Room B. 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