Shawabty of King Tanwetamani
Napatan Period, reign of Tanwetamani
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, Pyramid 16 (tomb of King Tanwetamani), debris
Overall: 8.6 cm (3 3/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a shawabty belonging to King Tanwetamani. The male figure wears a tripartite wig and has a long beard. There is one unframed column of incised text on the front of the figure. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar but does have a small base. Here the hands are opposed and the arms are not crossed. In each hand t he figure holds a hoe. In addition the left hand holds a cord to a seed bag which is slung over the left shoulder. The number 15 is inscribed in black on the bottom.
The inscription is unusual in that there are 16 different short vertical lines of text on these shawabtys. Together the 16 lines form a complete shawabty spell. The number written in black on the bottom of the foot on some of these shawabtys was assigned by Reisner and refers to the line of text of the shawabty spell.
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 el-Kurru, Ku. 16 (tomb of Tanwetamani), debris. 1919: 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