Shawabty of King Taharqa

Nubian
Napatan Period, reign of Taharqa
690–664 B.C.


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 1, I E near door

Dimensions

Height: 30.5 cm (12 in.)

Accession Number

20.222

Medium or Technique

Gray serpentinite

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty belonging to King Taharqa. The figure wears a bulging bag (khat) headdress with uraeus and has a long beard. Here the arms are crossed and the hands are right over left. In each hand the figure holds a hoe and a cord to a small bag slung over each shoulder. The hoe on the right has a narrow blade and the one on the left has a broad blade. There are 10 horizontal lines of incised unframed text on the front of the body which do not extend to the back of the figure. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. The object is broken in four places. The front of feet and back of headdress are missing.

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 1 (tomb of Taharqa) I E near door. 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