Shawabty of Ihy

New Kingdom, late Dynasty 18–20
1390–1070 B.C.


Height x width: 22.2 x 6.6 cm (8 3/4 x 2 5/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty of dull gray-brown wood depicts a characteristically mummiform figure wearing a tripartite wig. Incised lines on the upper torso are likely remnants of an incised beaded collar. Arms are crossed over the chest. The hands hold implements of field work for use in the Afterlife. In the left hand is a broad hoe, while the object at right is indistinct due to wear. On the legs, a central column of incised hieroglyphic text is flanked by eight additional horizontal line, all having divider lines and traces of blue or black painted fill. The text identifies the shawabty’s owner as Ihy and records a version of the “Shawabty Spell” for him. There is a large crack down right side of the torso. Otherwise the shawabty is generally intact.

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