Shawabty of Bakmut

New Kingdom, Dynasty 19–20
1295–1070 B.C.


Height x width: 19.4 x 5.3 cm (7 5/8 x 2 1/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of reddish pottery retains a white coating and substantial remnants of painted decoration. It is a mummiform figure wearing a black painted tripartite wig. Arms are crossed on the chest, right over left. The left hand holds a black painted broad hoe, while the right appears to hold a narrow hoe. Traces of five bands of black hieroglyphic text on on legs identify the owner as Bakmut. The shawabty’s face is painted reddish-brown, with arms and body a slightly darker red-brown. Black and reddish-orange lines represent a multi-stranded pectoral collar/necklace about the neck and upper torso. Surfaces are heavily worn with significant flaking and chipping of surface treatments. The shawabty was formerly broken through legs and mended.

An ancient Egyptian shawabty is a funerary figurine that was intended 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 length 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.


By 1836: Robert Hay Collection, Linplum, Scotland; 1863: to his son, Robert James Alexander Hay; 1868-1872: Way Collection, Boston (purchased by Samuel A. Way through London dealers Rollin and Feuardent, 27 Haymarket); 1872: given to the MFA by Samuel's son, C. Granville Way. (Accession Date: June 28, 1872)

Credit Line

Hay Collection—Gift of C. Granville Way