Fragment of shawabty of King Shebitka
Napatan Period, reign of Shebitka
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, Pyramid 23
Overall: 6.5 cm (2 9/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a fragment of the upper half of a shawabty of King Shebitka. The words ‘Osiris, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Shebitka’ are written in black ink on the front of the torso in one unframed column of painted text. The male figure wears a tripartite wig and has a long beard. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar. No hands or implements are depicted. The beard, which is missing the right side, is painted black. Complete shawabtys of this type have no base.
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), el-Kurru, Pyramid 23 filling debris, originally from Pyramid 18 (tomb of Shebitka). 1919: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA by the government of the Sudan.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition