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

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of light brown wood depicts a mummiform figure wearing a tripartite wig. Hands are crossed opposite over the chest holding implements of field work (two hoes, incised). Five horizontal bands of black painted hieroglyphic text are carried on the legs with dividing lines, recording the the name of the owner and a short version of the “Shawabty Spell.” Black accents have been applied to some of the modelled facial features. The lower portion is well polished, while the upper portion is worn and scuffed. A fragment is broken away from the foot and missing. The shawabty is cracked through the middle of the front.

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