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Shawabty fragments

Nubian
Napatan Period, reign of Shabaka
712–698 B.C.


Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, found in Ku 71, originally from various tombs

Dimensions

Overall:Largest 4.2 cm (1 5/8 in.) Overall: Smallest 0.2 cm (1/16 in.)

Accession Number

21.13846

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

These are 52 fragments of uninscribed shawabtys. There is 1 head with torso, 15 fragments of heads, 1 torso, 7 fragments of torsos, 19 fragments of feet, 9 miscellaneous fragments and 3 miscellaneous fragments inside a bag. The heads look like Ku 61 style. They were found in Ku 71 but are all intrusive and are from various tombs. There is also a boc with miscellaneous fragments.

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.

Provenance

From Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, found in Ku. 71 (tomb of Queen ?), but originally from various tombs. 1919: excavated by the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA in the division of finds by the government of the Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition