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 wooden shawabty exhibits good preservation of its painted decoration. It is a mummiform figure wearing a tripartite wig. Arms are crossed opposite over the chest, right over left. The figure is painted with an overall white ground with the torso showing significant traces of yellow. Reddish-orange dividing lines on the legs border 5 horizontal bands of black painted hieroglyphic text recording a version of the “Shawabty Spell” for the shawabty’s owner. The text continues in a vertical band on the foot. The wig is painted black, as are accents to the modelled facial features. The face, hands, and portions of arms are reddish-brown. There are also slight traces of light blue on the right side onear the front lappet of the wig.

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