Requires Photography

Shawabty fragments

Napatan Period
750–270 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia, (Sudan), Gebel Barkal, B700 Trench C ?


Overall: 4.7 x 3.9 cm (1 7/8 x 1 9/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a torso fragment of a shawabty of an unidentified king or queen. The object was broken in 2 pieces and is not mended. It has a raised back pillar. There is probably one hoe held in the right hand resting on the left shoulder and a cord to a small bag slung over the right shoulder held in the left hand. The arms are crossed and the hands are right over left. The front left side is missing. There was a 3rd fragment with the object but it is not a shawabty fragment.

The ancient Nubians included shawabtys in their tombs only in the Napatan Period, about 750–270 B.C. These funerary figurines are based on Egyptian shawabtys, but differ from them in many features of their iconography. For instance, the known Nubian examples are only from royal tombs. Also, they have unique texts, implements, poses and are known to have the largest number of shawabtys included in one tomb. Their function, it is assumed, was the same as that of the Egyptian shawabty, namely 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 lengths 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 Nubia (Sudan) Gebel Barkal, B700 Trench C ? 1916: Excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA by the government of Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition