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 history, archaeology, and language of ancient Egypt, with an emphasis on the third and second millennium BCE.

In 2019/2020 I am involved in the following modules.

Undergraduate teaching

  • Early civilisations: Egypt
  • Ancient Worlds (Widening participation)
  • Understanding ancient Societies
  • Face to face with Egypt’s Gods
  • Egyptian Blue (Seminar)
  • A day at the Place of Truth (First year Project)

Graduate teaching

  • Ancient Egyptian Religion (Seminar)
  • Research and Scholarship (Seminar)

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 forthcoming monograph, “Kinship and family in ancient Egypt: archaeology and anthropology in dialogue”, to be published by Cambridge University Press in February 2020.

Other topics I am currently working on include social memory, the impact of ethnography on the creation of Egyptology, and the reception of ancient Egypt in heavy metal.

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.


Recent publications


Olabarria, L 2020, Kinship and family in ancient Egypt: archaeology and anthropology in dialogue. Cambridge University Press.


Olabarria, L 2019, 'Coming to terms with stelae: a performative approach to memorial stelae and chapels of Abydos in the Middle Kingdom', Studien zur altägyptischen Kultur (SAK).

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://journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/jaei/article/view/22031/21396>

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

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

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/>


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.

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