Shawabty of Nebmerutef

New Kingdom, late Dynasty 18–20
1400–1070 B.C.


Height x width x thickness: 11.1 x 3.1 x 2.2 cm (4 3/8 x 1 1/4 x 7/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty, fashioned of well levigated reddish clay, depicts a mummiform figure wearing a tripartite wig with bands at the end of long frontal lappets and with incised lines denoting tresses. A necklace/collar is incised on the neck. Hands are crossed and opposed with sleeves combined. The hands hold implements of field work: two hoes, rendered by incision. A central column of incised hieroglyphic text on legs is surrounded by six horizontal bands, identifying the owner as Nebmerutef and carrying a version of the “Shawabty Spell.” No traces of paint are evident. The upper portion is slightly blackened. The foot is partially broken off, and a fragment is missing from the face.

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