Heather McCarthy

  • Fellowship Dates 2018-2019
  • Research Topic Ramesside Royal Women's Tombs, the Book of the Dead and the Development of the Deir el Medina Iconographic Tradition
  • Fellow or Grant Type Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
  • Affiliation Post-doctoral candidate New York University Epigraphical Expedition
At the beginning of the 19th dynasty (1292 BCE), the way royal women were buried changed significantly - a Y-shaped valley in western Thebes, known anciently as Ta Set Neferu or “The Place of the Beautiful Ones” and now called the Valley of the Queens, was deliberately repurposed as a separate, discrete necropolis for many of the highest ranking Ramesside period (1292-1075 BCE) queens, most bearing the “great royal wife” title and each buried in an elaborately decorated, independently owned, rock-cut tomb. The tombs of Ramesside royal women were significantly larger and more elaborate than those of their 18th-dynasty counterparts, who were typically interred, singly or in groups, in undecorated chambers within kings’ tombs or in separate, undecorated tombs located in and around the pharaohs’ necropolis, the Valley of the Kings.
This research identifies and categorizes the Book of the Dead spells/vignettes employed by both Ramesside royal women and by Deir el Medina artisans and analyzes each spell’s frequency and programmatic patterns of use by the two groups. It investigates the paths of transmission from queens’ tombs to private tombs by examining Deir el Medina documents and by studying stylistic affinities between scenes in tombs belonging to both groups. The primary research focus is on tombs from the early 19th dynasty, the most creatively fruitful period of scene development, and follows the history of spell use through the 20th dynasty and the close of the Ramesside period (1190-1075 BCE). The research closes a major gap in Egyptological methodology and addresses the and transmission of art and ideas vis-a-vis the role of queens’ tombs, which are rare examples of monuments dedicated solely to royal women.

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