Requires Photography

Shawabty of King Tanwetamani

Napatan Period, reign of Tanwetamani
664–653 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, Pyramid 16, debris of chapel


Overall Smallest: 2.5 cm (1 in.) Overall Largest: 4 cm (1 9/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

These are three fragments of shawabtys (type A) belonging to King Tanwetamani. There is one leg, foot, base fragment. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar but it has a small base. There is one unframed column of incised text on the front of the figure.
There is one head fragment. The male figure wears a tripartite wig and has a long beard. Here the hands are opposed and the arms are not crossed. 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.
There is one head fragment. The male figure wears a tripartite wig and has a long beard.

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 of chapel. 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.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition