Dr Leire Olabarria

Dr Leire Olabarria

Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology
Lecturer in Egyptology

Contact details

Arts Building, 314
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a Lecturer in Egyptology with an interest in the application of social and cultural anthropology to the study of ancient Egypt. My work focuses on kinship and marriage in the Middle Kingdom and on the social construction of monumental spaces. I am also a field archaeologist and have been working at the site of Dayr el-Barsha in Middle Egypt since 2012.


  • DPhil in Egyptology (Oxford)
  • MPhil in Egyptology (Oxford)
  • BA in History (Deusto); BA in Translation (UPV/EHU); BA in Social and Cultural Anthropology (UNED)
  • Fellow of Higher Education Academy


I am an Egyptologist with a background in history and anthropology. I moved from Spain to the UK to pursue an MPhil in Egyptology (2008-2010), followed by a DPhil in Egyptology (2010-2014), both at the University of Oxford. I worked as a departmental lecturer at the Faculty of Oriental Studies (Oxford) from 2014 to 2016, when I took up a three-year research fellowship at The Queen’s College (Oxford). I am delighted to have joined the University of Birmingham in September 2019.


I teach a wide range of modules covering aspects of the archaeology, language, and history of ancient Egypt, with an emphasis on the third and second millennium BCE. Some of my current modules include ‘Face to Face with Egypt’s Gods’, ‘Egyptian Language 1 & 2’, ‘Rethinking the Ancient World B: Other Voices’, and ‘Towns, Tombs, and Temples: the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt’. I also supervise undergraduate and postgraduate dissertation on Egyptological topics.

Postgraduate supervision

I would welcome research students interested in the material culture of the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom, anthropological approaches to ancient Egypt, kinship and marriage, letters, stelae and memorial chapels, the construction of Egyptology as an area study, and aspects of the reception of Egypt in popular culture.

Find out more - our PhD Classics and Ancient History  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


My primary research focuses on how kinship is constructed and materialised in the monumental record of the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom (ca 2150–1650 BCE), and it lies in the intersection of archaeology, anthropology, and Egyptology. While my main corpus for this research comprises memorial stelae from the site of Abydos, I use information from other written, archaeological, and pictorial sources to reassess the impact that monuments have had on the construction, perpetuation, and transmission of social networks. I explore these aspects in my recent monograph, Kinship and family in ancient Egypt: archaeology and anthropology in dialogue, published by Cambridge University Press in 2020. The book is available through Cambridge Core.

I am planning a new book that builds upon my interest in the monumental display of social groups. In this new project I will focus on the impact that these representations had on remembrance and on the practice of relatedness.

Other topics I am currently working on include gender, the impact of ethnography on the creation of Egyptology, and the reception of ancient Egypt in heavy metal and in science fiction. Regarding the latter, I am co-organising (with Dr Eleanor Dobson, Department of English Literature) an international symposium entitled Do ancient Egyptians dream of electric sheep? The reception of ancient Egypt in science fiction. I am also co-editing a volume on science fiction novels dealing with alternate history and uchronias in Antiquity.

Since 2021 I am section editor for gender theory in the new open access and peer-reviewed journal Interdisciplinary Egyptology.

I am also a keen field archaeologist, and I participate in the Dayr al-Barsha archaeological project in Middle Egypt, where I excavate a First Intermediate Period cemetery. The results of these excavations are being processed for publication.


Highlight publications

Olabarria, L 2020, Kinship and family in ancient Egypt: archaeology and anthropology in dialogue. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108670487

Olabarria, L 2020, 'Coming to terms with stelae: a performative approach to memorial stelae and chapels of Abydos in the Middle Kingdom', Studien zur altägyptischen Kultur (SAK), vol. 49. <https://buske.de/monographien-und-reihen/studien-zur-altagyptischen-kultur-sak/studien-zur-altagyptischen-kultur-bd-49-2020.html>

Olabarria, L 2018, 'A question of substance: interpreting kinship and relatedness in ancient Egypt', Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections, vol. 17, pp. 88–113. <https://egyptianexpedition.org/articles/a-question-of-substance-interpreting-kinship-and-relatedness-in-ancient-egypt/>

Olabarria, L 2018, 'Formulating relations: an approach to the smyt-formula', Zeitschrift fuer Aegyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde, vol. 145, no. 1, pp. 57-70. https://doi.org/10.1515/zaes-2018-0004

Olabarria, L 2019, “When the land was milk and honey and the magic was strong and true”: Edward Said, ancient Egypt, and heavy metal. in K Fletcher & O Umurhan (eds), Classical antiquity in heavy metal music. 1 edn, Bloomsbury. <https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/classical-antiquity-in-heavy-metal-music-9781350075368/>

Recent publications


Olabarria, L 2022, 'The power of convention: reinterpreting social groups through a Middle Kingdom statuette', Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 108, no. 1-2, pp. 143-157. https://doi.org/10.1177/03075133221141909

Olabarria, L 2022, 'XX-Cavations: women in ancient egypt and modern egyptology', Interdisciplinary Egyptology, vol. 1, no. 1, 13. https://doi.org/10.25365/integ.2022.x1.13


Quiroga Puertas, AJ & Olabarria, L 2024, Introduction. in AJ Quiroga Puertas & L Olabarria (eds), The Ancient World in Alternative History and Counterfactual Fictions. 1st edn, Bloomsbury Studies in Classical Reception, Bloomsbury Publishing, pp. 1-14.

Olabarria, L 2020, Ostracon P 2027: family quarrel or support network? in The Deir el-Medina and Jaroslav Černý collections. National Museum/Narodni muzeum, Prague.

Olabarria, L 2019, Kinship and gender in dialogue: approaching relatedness in ancient Egypt. in SL Budin, M Cifarelli, A García-Ventura & A Millet Albà (eds), Gender and methodology in the ancient Near East: Approaches from Assyriology and beyond. Barcino. Monographica Orientalia , vol. 10, Universitat de Barcelona Edicions, Barcelona, pp. 287–298.

Book/Film/Article review

Olabarria, L 2012, 'Review: Hirsch, Eileen 2008. Die sakrale Legitimation Sesostris' I.: Kontaktphänomene in königsideologischen Texten. Königtum, Staat und Gesellschaft früher Hochkulturen 6. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz', Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 132, no. 4, pp. 711-713.

Conference contribution

Olabarria, L 2012, El hermano de la madre y el hijo de la hermana en el Reino Medio. in LM de Araújo & JDC Sales (eds), Novos trabalhos de Egiptologia Ibérica: IV Congresso Ibérico de Egiptologia - IV Congreso Ibérico de Egiptología. vol. 2, Instituto Oriental e Centro de História da Facultade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa, Lisbon, pp. 878–898.

Other contribution

Olabarria, L 2021, Un universo azul: la colección Eton Myers en la Universidad de Birmingham. University of Alcalá. <https://mundosantiguos.web.uah.es/revista/universo-azul-coleccion-eton-myers-universidad-birmingham/>

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