Shawabty of Queen Makmale
Napatan Period, reign of Aspelta
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 40
Overall: 13.1 x 6.4 cm (5 3/16 x 2 1/2 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a shawabty belonging to Queen Makmale. The female figure wears the queen’s vulture headdress over the tripartite wig. There are four visible horizontal lines of incised text encircling the body. The text is framed and there is a narrow blank area up the center of the back. The text is painted black. The arms are not crossed, the hands are positioned right above left. 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. Part of the calves and feet are missing. The vulture, top of the head and nose are missing. The left lappet, back of the wig, back above the text and the seed bag are worn. There are hairline cracks on the back and mud incrustation on the front of the figure.
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, and 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 40 (tomb of Queen Makmale). 1918: 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.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition