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

The painted decoration on this wooden shawabty is fairly well preserved. The object depicts a mummiform figure of slender proportions wearing a tripartite wig. Hands are crossed opposite and combined, shown holding implements of field work (two hoes). There is a white ground. The upper portion is mainly yellow, while the lower portion is black. The wig is painted black with reddish-orange bands at the ends of the front lappets. Both the hands and the hoes are reddish-orange as well. Black and reddish-orange accents have been applied to some of teh modelled facial features. Black and orange hatched stripes around the neck and upper torso indicate a pectoral collar/necklace. Four horizontal bands of yellow painted hieroglyphic text with divider lines appear on the legs and identify the shawabty’s owner.

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: Juen 28, 1872)

Credit Line

Hay Collection—Gift of C. Granville Way