Shawabty of King Senkamanisken

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

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 3, Room A, B, C


Overall: 19.9 x 5.9 cm (7 13/16 x 2 5/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty belonging to King Senkamanisken. The figure wears a tripartite wig and has a long beard. The facial features are very detailed with philtrum and bored out nostrils. Each shawabty has distinctive, individualized facial features that have been carved and not mold made. The arms are crossed and the hands are positioned right over left. The hands are modelled in raised relief. One hoe is held in the right hand resting on the left shoulder and the left hand holds a cord to a small bag slung over the right shoulder. The implements are in raised relief and finely detailed. This mummiform figure has a wide back pillar and small square base. The back pillar extends over the wig to the top of the back of the head. There are six horizontal registers of incised text encircling the body ending at the back pillar. There is also a framed column of vertical text on the back pillar. The text, beard and wig are painted black. The seed bag has no cross-hatch detail.

The tomb of king Senkamanisken held three types of shawabty figures, small scale faience, large scale faience, and dark brown serpentinite. These small scale faience figures ranging from 16 to 20 cm. have distinctive, almost portraitlike features, including detailed philtrums and bored out nostrils. Each has been individually sculpted, they were not mold made as were most faience shawabtys.

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 3 (tomb of Senkamanisken) Room A, B, C. 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.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition