Stick shawabty

Middle Kingdom to Second Intermediate Period, Dy
2061–1550 B.C.

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


The Ancient World


Shawabties and shawabty boxes

As is customary with this type of figurine, this “stick” shawabty was carved very roughly from a peg/dowel of light brown wood. Details are extremely minimal, but obvious in roughing out a mummiform figure with distinct separatation of anatomical sections: head, body, and feet. There are faded remnants of yellow-white paint, comprising primarily a column of hieroglyphic text down the front of legs with vertical border lines. There are also possible indications on the torso that crossed arms and/or implements held in the shawabty’s hands were originally rendered in paint, though far from distinct. This type of shawabty was often provided with its own model coffin of wood or pottery.

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