Requires Photography

Shawabty of Queen Maletasen

Napatan Period, reign of Amtalqa
568–553 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 39, Room B


Overall: 12 x 6 cm (4 3/4 x 2 3/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty belonging to Queen Maletasen. 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 line up the center of the back. The text is painted black. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. 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. The object was broken in one piece and smaller chips and is not mended. Both elbows, the forehead, the headdress and the chin are chipped. There is mud incrustation on the back. The figure is missing from mid-leg and down.

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 39 (tomb of Queen Maletasen) Room B. 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.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition