Fragment of Shawabty of King Shebitka
Napatan Period, reign of Shebitka
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, Pyramid 9
Overall: 7.6 cm (3 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a shawabty belonging to King Shebitka. The male figure wears a tripartite wig and has a long beard. There are traces of the words ‘Osiris, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Shebitka’ written on this shawabty in black ink on the front of the torso in one unframed column of painted text. The object was broken in two pieces and is not mended. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar. No hands or implements are depicted. The feet and lower legs are missing, the lower part of the face and beard are chipped off, and the left part of the backside is chipped. 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 9 (enclosure debris), but 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