Requires Photography

Fragment of a shawabty of

Napatan Period
468–463 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan)


Largest fragment: Overall: 7 x 3.1 cm (2 3/4 x 1 1/4 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a legs fragment of a shawabty of Queen Akhrasan. When complete this type consists of the following: The female figure wears the king’s nemes headdress with uraeus and has a long beard. There is one unframed horizontal line of incised text on the front of the figure with a Hetep di nesewt offering formul to Osiris. Below that is the cartouche of the queen. The arms are not crossed, the hands are too fragmented to see which is positioned higher. One hoe is held in the right hand resting on the right shoulder and the left hand holds a cord to a small bag slung over the left shoulder. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. The object was broken in one piece and many fragments and is not mended. Some fragments have adherent green glaze. “XXXII” is written in black ink on the back of the legs. Three glazed pieces are bagged separately.

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. 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