Shawabty of King Senkamanisken
Napatan Period, reign of Senkamanisken
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 3, Room B, South part
Overall: 26 x 8 cm (10 1/4 x 3 1/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
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 narrow bladed hoe. The figure does not hold any seed bags. There are six horizontal lines of incised, black painted hieroglyphs encircling the body. The text is framed and there is a narrow blank area up the center of the back. There is a sculpted indentation separating the feet. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. Each shawabty has distinctive, individualized facial features. Contrary to what is believed of faience, these figures were not mold made but hand carved. The object was broken in five pieces and is not mended. The figure is worn on the uraeus, face, beard, and back of the body.
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 B, South part. 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.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition