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Shawabty of unidentified queen

Napatan Period, reign of Anlamani
623–593 B.C. (?)

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 21, chapel enclosure debris


Overall largest: 2.3 cm (7/8 in.) Overall smallest: 1.6 cm (5/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

These are six fragments of shawabtys belonging to an unidentified queen. There are three heads, one set of hands with a whip, and one head and shoulder broken into two pieces. When complete, this type consists of a foreman shawabty figure wearing a tripartite wig painted black but has no kilt or beard. He holds a whip in both hands. The shawabtys are uninscribed.

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 21 (tomb of unidentified queen), in the debris of the enclosure around the chapel. 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.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition