Shawabty of King Senkamanisken
Napatan Period, reign of Senkamanisken
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 3, Room B along the North wall
Overall: 14.8 x 5.7 cm (5 13/16 x 2 1/4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
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 hoe is finely detailed. The figure is missing from below the knees. The ears are very large.
The tomb of king Senkamanisken held two large groups of shawaby figurines, one made of faience, and the other of a dark brown serpentinite. Unlike Egyptian royal shawabty figures, those of Senkamaniske have distinctive, almost portraitike features and the hands of individual artists can be identified.
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 B along the North wall. 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.
Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition