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Shawabty fragments of Queen Nefrukekashta

Napatan Period, reign of Piankhy (Piye)–Shabaka
743–712 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), el-Kurru, Ku 52


Overall: Largest 3.4 cm (1 5/16 in.) Overall: Smallest 2.5 cm (1 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

These are two lower leg fragments of shawabtys belonging to Queen Nefrukekashta. When complete, the female figure wears a tripartite wig with uraeus and has one unframed column of text painted in black on the front of the figure. When legible, the text reads “Osiris Nefrukekashta.” This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar, wig line or base and there are often finger impressions on the back. No hands or implements are depicted. The larger fragment has worn text while the smaller fragment has no visible text.

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), el-Kurru, Ku 52 (tomb of Queen Nefrukekashta).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