Shawabty of Queen Masalaye
Napatan Period, reign of Senkamanisken
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 23
Overall: 6.7 cm (2 5/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a shawabty belonging to Queen Masalaye. The object was broken in two pieces and is not mended. The female figure wears a tripartite wig. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. There are seven horizontal lines of incised text on the back of the figure starting from the top of the head, and the bottom three encircle the legs. The text is framed. The arms are not crossed and the hands are positioned right above left. In each hand the figure holds a hoe. In addition the left hand holds a cord but no seed bag. The left shoulder, legs, and foot are missing. The object is very worn.
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 Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 23 (tomb of Queen Masalaye). 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 the Sudan.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition