Shawabty of King Senkamanisken
Napatan Period, reign of Senkamanisken
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 3, Room C north side
Overall: 17.1cm (6 3/4in.)
Medium or Technique
Out on Loan
On display at National Center of Afro-American Artists, Inc., since February 23, 1994
This is a shawabty belonging to King Senkamanisken. The figure wears the king’s nemes headdress with double uraeus and has a plaited beard attached by an incised chin strap. Here the arms are crossed and the hands are directly opposite each other. The king holds the implements of rulership, the flail on the right shoulder and the crook on the left. There is a footmark on the bottom of the foot which is number 1 in Dows Dunham’s typology, updated by Joyce Haynes (MFA, 2008).
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 C north side. 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 Sudan.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition