Shawabty of Princess Mernua
Napatan Period, reign of Aspelta
Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Meroe, Beg. S. 85
Overall: 13.8 x 14.3 cm (5 7/16 x 5 5/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
This is a shawabty belonging to Queen Mernua. The female figure wears a tripartite wig. The arms are not crossed, the hands are positioned right above left. The right hand holds a hoe and the left holds a cord and a plain seed bag. The shawabty is uninscribed. This mummiform shape does not have a back pillar or base. The top of the wig, face, right lappet, hands, elbow, upper legs, and left arm are chipped. The head is much damaged and the body is broken in half and mended. There is much encrustation of red mud.
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), Meroe Beg. S. 85 (tomb of queen Mernua) around walls of room on N, W and S. 1923: 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