Requires Photography

Shawabty of King Senkamanisken

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

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


Overall: 15.8 x 5.5 cm (6 1/4 x 2 3/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


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. In each hand the figure holds a hoe, the hoe on the right is broader than the hoe on the left shoulder. In addition the left hand holds a cord to a seed bag which is slung over the left shoulder. The seed bag is roughly square with a tassel with a forked end hanging from the center of the bottom of the bag. Six horizontal lines of incised hieroglyphic text encircle the body. The text is framed and there is a narrow blank area up the center of the back. There are detailed cosmetic eyelines on the brow and the eye. A multistranded wesekh (broad) collar is visible. There is a footmark on the bottom of the foot which is number 54 in Dows Dunham’s typology, updated by Joyce Haynes (MFA, 2008).

This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. Each shawabty has distinctive, individualized facial features. The object was broken in two pieces and is not mended.

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.


From Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 3 (tomb of Senkamanisken) Room C. 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 the Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition