Requires Photography

Fragments of shawabtys

Napatan Period, reign of Shebitka or Taharqa
698–664 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Meroe, Beg. S. 125 floor debris


Largest: 5.1 x 3.2 cm (2 x 1 1/4 in.) Smallest: 0.3 x 0.2 cm (1/8 x 1/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

These are fragments of shawabtys of an unidentified king or queen. Altogether there are sixteen fragments consisting of three feet, one leg, and twelve small fragments. The leg fragment has three complete and two partial framed horizontal lines of black painted text encircling the body. There is one framed column of text on the front of the figure. The feet show that this text extends down tok the tips of the toes. The Object Register says that these are fragments of two shawabty figures.

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) Meroe Beg. S. 125 floor debris. 1921: Excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA by the government of Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition