Manchester Museum’s Egyptology collection holds material not only from Egypt, but contains almost 700 objects from ancient Sudan. These come from a range of sites and entered the museum by a variety of means. In the case of a small number royal shabtis, these were donated to Manchester from the Sudan Museum in 1926.
Senkamenisken was the grandson of rather better known King Taharqa (690-664 BCE) of the 25th Dynasty, who ruled both Egypt and Nubia. After the Assyrian incursions into Egypt, the Napatan dynasty was based solely in Nubia and was contemporary with the Egyptian 26th Dynasty.
Senkamenisken was buried in a pyramid (no. 3) at the royal cemetery at Nuri, some 300km north of Khartoum. The pyramid and associated funerary temple were excavated by a Harvard University – Boston Museum of Fine Arts mission in 1917 under the direction of American Egyptologist George Andrew Reisner. In the publication of the site, fellow American Dows Dunham described ‘at least’ 867 faience shabtis found scattered throughout the pyramid’s 3 chambers – and ‘at least’ 410 serpentine stone ones, indicating that Senkamenisken had the most of any known royal burial (though Taharqa is often credited with having most, at around 1000).
There were three recognised types of faience shabtis, many showing the king with a double uraeus at his brow – something of an iconographical hallmark of Napatan kings, and here perhaps an allusion to the time when the family ruled both Egypt and Nubia. This example shows the king with a tripartite headdress, without uraei, emphasising perhaps the divine nature of the deceased king. The kings holds the standard agricultural tools, indication an expectation of the role of worker for the king in the afterlife.
This example carries the standard ‘Shabti Spell’ – Chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead – the text of which, unusually, extends down the back pillar. This feature parallels developments in royal and private shabtis in Egypt, which favoured faience and included back pillars. Indeed it may be that these shabtis were made in Egypt because they are so similar to contemporary non-royal examples found there. Yet, there are Napatan royal texts which speak of artisans being brought to Nubia from as far away as Memphis to work in Napatan temples, so perhaps the craftsmanship – rather than the objects themselves – were imported, or adapted.
This example has recently been scanned and replicated for use in an innovative outreach project, examining identity and concepts of authenticity, by Amanda Ford Spora, a doctoral student at UCL. Another shabti of Senkamenisken, made of serpentine, is loaned out of the Museum as part of our award-winning ‘Shabtis in Schools’ programme.