New Kingdom, late Dynasty 18–20
1390–1070 B.C.


Height x width: 22.8 x 5 cm (9 x 1 15/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of light brown wood once had details rendered in yellow paint, only faint traces of which remain. It depicts a schematically formed mummiform figure of narrow proportions. Arms are modelled as though folded over the chest and fully bundled under linen wrappings. Hands are not modelled, but rather rendered in yellow paint , crossed opposite and combined. Held in each hand is a hoe, also painted in yelow. Yellow facial details have mostly worn away. Faint traces of a column of yellow painted hieroglyphic text are evident down the front of the legs.

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