Requires Photography

Shawabty of an unidentified queen

Napatan Period, reign of Senkamanisken
643–623 B.C.

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 81


Overall: 9.5 x 3.2 x 1.5 cm (3 3/4 x 1 1/4 x 9/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty belonging to an unidentified queen. The female figure wears a bag wig. The shawabty is uninscribed. This mummiform shape has both a back pillar and a base. The arms are crossed and the hands are positioned right above left. One hoe is held in the right hand and rests on the left shoulder, the left hand generally holds a cord to a small basket slung over the right shoulder. “N.M. 11” is written in pencil on the bottom of the feet. The top of the head and the front of the feet are chipped. There is a fissure on the left ankle. There is some mud encrusted on the back and there is an indentation on the back of the feet. This figure does not have a seed bag or basket.

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 Nuri, Pyramid 81 (tomb of unknown queen). 1918: excavated by the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA in the division of finds by the government of Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition