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 wooden shawabty has fairly well preserved painted decoration. It depicts a mummiform figure wearing a black painted tripartite wig. Arms are folded over the chest with hands crossed opposite, rendered in reddish brown paint. Also reddish brown are field implements held in the hands (two hoes). Black lines around the neck and upper torso probably represent a necklace/collar. Some facial details are accented in black. Most body surfaces bear traces of white, likely to indicate cloth. Vertical red lines on the lower body may suggest pleats, such that the garment being worn is a long robe rather than mummy wrappings. Black lines may also be part of the pattern, though they may also be intended as border lines for a column of black painted hieroglyphic text has been applied to the legs, naming the owner of the shawabty.

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