New Kingdom, Dynasty 18–19
1550–1186 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Egypt), Aniba, Tomb SA 33


Height: 11.5 cm (4 1/2 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


Africa and Oceania, The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of white-glazed faience depicts a small mummiform figure with black-painted tripartite wig. Hands appear crossed, possibly right over left. The hands hold implements of field work: a broad hoe in each, painted in black. The figure’s facial details are also accented with black. Additional lines on the neck likely indicate a pectoral necklace/collar. Two vertical black lines on the legs were likely intended as borders for a hieroglyphic inscription, either never applied or now worn away. Such text likely would have identified the shawabty’s owner. The shawabty is broken through middle and mended; some small fragments are missing from the area of this break.

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 Aniba, tomb SA 33. 1910: excavated by the E.B. Coxe Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania; assigned to the University of Pennsylvania in the division of finds by the Sudanese government; 1910-1991: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; 1991: received by the MFA through exchange with the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

(Accession date: March 25, 1992)

Credit Line

MFA-University of Pennsylvania Exchange