Likely New Kingdom, Dynasty 18–20
1550–1070 B.C.

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of brown wood depicts a mummiform figure whose shape and proportions are much like an anthropoid coffin (i.e. wig style and no distinct modeling of arms). It wears a tripartite wig. There is very good preservation of painted decoration with small areas of wear. Most of the lower body is white. The wig exhibits remnants of blue. A beaded necklace/collar of seven strands is painted black, blue-green, red, and white. Six horizontal bands of black painted hieroglyphic text with red dividing lines appear on legs, recording a version of the “Shawabty Spell” for the owner. The shawabty’s face and the lower extent of wig’s lappets are severely battered and chipped.

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