Middle Kingdom, late Dynasty 12 to Dynasty 13
1878–1640 B.C.

Findspot: Egypt, Naga el-Deir, Sheikh Farag, Tomb SF 42 c


Height: 11.9 cm (4 11/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


On View

Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery (Gallery 119)


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This limestone shawabty depicts a mummiform figure. It wears a headdress that resembles the nemes-crown, though without a uraeus-cobra. Facial features exhibit large ears and high cheekbones. Hands are crossed over chest, right over left, with slight modelling of arms. The hands are empty. The shawabty is uninscribed.

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.


From Sheikh Farag, Tomb SF 42 c. 1913: Excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA by the government of Egypt. (Accession Date: December 4, 1913)

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition