Requires Photography

Fragment of a shawabty of Queen Sakaaye

Napatan Period
468–463 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 31


Overall: 13 x 4.8 cm (5 1/8 x 1 7/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty of Queen Sakaaye. The female figure wears the king’s nemes headdress with uraeus and has a long beard. There is one unframed column of incised text on the front of the figure containing her cartouche prefaced by ‘The Osiris, The Mother of the God’. The arms are not crossed, the hands are positioned right above left. One hoe is held in the left hand resting on the left shoulder and the right hand holds a cord to a small bag slung over the right shoulder. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. The object was broken in eleven pieces and is not mended. Most of the body is present. The top of the wig and the face are badly 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 Nuri, Pyramid 31 (Queen Sakaaye). 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