Shawabty fragment

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

Findspot: Egypt, Naga el-Deir, N 12 / 45


Height: 12.5 cm (4 15/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a fragment of a shawabty of pottery (brown-gray clay). The upper portion only has survived, having broken off at upper legs. The figure is mummiform. It wears a tripartite wig which exhibits traces of blue and red. Facial features are modelled and retain traces of red. The upper torso has a small patch of yellow that may be indications of a painted collar/necklace. The hands are crossed and opposed, holding sacred symbols: an ankh and possibly a was-scepter.

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.


From Naga el-Deir, grave N 12/45). 1912: Excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA by the Government of Egypt in the division of finds. (Accession Date: December 5, 1912)

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition