Shawabty of the Chief Draftsman Ya

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


Height x width x thickness: 13.3 x 6.3 x 4.4 cm (5 1/4 x 2 1/2 x 1 3/4 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a shawabty of smooth textured, light grayish limestone with traces of dull red, brown, blue and white remaining. It is of mummiform shape with hands crossed and opposed on the chest. It wears a tripartite wig with incised lines to indicate bands at the ends of the front lappets. The hands hold implements of field work, one broad hoe in each. Three horizontal rows of hieroglyphic text remain on the shawabty’s legs, obvioulsy having continued below a break to the lower portion, which is now missing. The full text would record a version of the “Shawabty Spell” for the owner.

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