Requires Photography

Unidentifiable shawabty fragments

Napatan Period
750–270 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, Tomb unknown


Overall: Largest 5.5 cm (2 3/16 in.) Overall: Smallest 0.6 cm (1/4 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

These are 5 boxes of unidentifiable shawabty fragments. Box 1 contains 14 unidentifieable fragments; Box 2 contains 52 unidentifiable fragments; Box 3 contains 38 unidentifiable fragments; Box 4 contains 6 unidentifiable fragments; Box 5 contains 18 fragments, consisting of one head, one torso a with four horizontal lines of incised text and 16 unidentifiable fragments.
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 el-Kurru, tomb unknown. 1919: 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