Late New Kingdom or later, Dynasty 18–24
1400–712 B.C.


Height x width: 21.9 x 7 cm (8 5/8 x 2 3/4 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty, fashioned of buff-colored clay, is covered with plaster and substantial remnants of paint. It depicts a mummiform figure wearing a black painted tripartite wig. Its hands are crossed over the chest, right over left. Though severely worn in this area, it appears each hand is holding a hoe. Facial details are accented in black. There are traces of a hieroglyphic inscription in black on a faded, yellow-brown ground with some traces of reddish-orange, in total comprising six horizontal bands of text with double dividing lines. The surface is heavily worn with much flaking of surface treatments; otherwise the shawabty is intact. Surface flaking obscures the inscription somewhat, but it likely recorded a version of the “Shawabty Spell” as well as an identification of the owner.

An ancient Egyptian shawabty is a funerary figurine that was intended 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 length 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.


By 1836: Robert Hay Collection, Linplum, Scotland; 1863: to his son, Robert James Alexander Hay; 1868-1872: Way Collection, Boston (purchased by Samuel A. Way through London dealers Rollin and Feuardent, 27 Haymarket); 1872: given to the MFA by Samuel's son, C. Granville Way. (Accession Date: June 28, 1872)

Credit Line

Hay Collection—Gift of C. Granville Way