Requires Photography

Shawabty of unidentified queen

Napatan Period, reign of Anlamani
623–593 B.C. (?)

Findspot: Nubia (Sudan), Nuri, Pyramid 21, stairs


Overall largest: 2.2 cm (7/8 in.) Overall smallest: 1 cm (3/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

These are four fragments of a shawabty of an unidentified queen. When complete, this type consists of a male figure wearing a tripartite wig and a long beard. The hands are opposed and the arms are not crossed. The left hand holds a hoe and the right hand holds an unknown, three-dimensional, ridged, rectangular object by the handle and rests it on the right shoulder. The shawabty is uninscribed.

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 21 (tomb of unidentified queen), stairs. 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.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition