Requires Photography

Shawabty of queen Mernua

Nubian
Napatan Period, reign of Aspelta
593–568 B.C.


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Meroe, Beg. S. 85 (tomb of queen Mernua)

Dimensions

Overall: 13.4 x 4.3 cm (5 1/4 x 1 11/16 in.)

Accession Number

21.16547

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty of Queen Mernua. The female figure wears a tripartite wig. The shawabty is uninscribed. The object was broken in 4 pieces and is not mended. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. The arms are not crossed, the hands are positioned right above left. The right hand holds a hoe and the left holds a cord and a plain seed bag. The face, top of hands, and implements are worn. The right side of the leg is chipped off. There is a hairline crack on the upper legs. There is also one bag of debris.

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.

Provenance

From Nubia (Sudan), Meroe Beg. S. 85 (tomb of queen Mernua). 1923: 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