Shawabty fragments of King Taharqa
Napatan Period, reign of Taharqa
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 1
Overall largest: 7.6 cm (3 in.) Overall smallest: 2.3 cm (7/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
These are five fragments of shawabtys of King Taharqa including two joining surface flakes from the back showing a seedbag; two unrelated pieces with text; and a miscellaneous fragment. When complete, there are typically nine or ten horizontal lines of incised unframed text on the front of the body which do not extend to the back of the figure. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base.
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), Nuri, Pyramid 1 (tomb of Taharqa). 1917: 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.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition