Art as Ritual Engagement in the Funerary Programme of Watetkhethor at Saqqara, c. 2345 BC

By Barbara O’Neill

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Art as Ritual Engagement is examined through a case study of feminised funerary representation in the repertoire of Watetkhethor, an elite woman interred in the mastaba tomb of her spouse, Mereruka, at Saqqara, c.2345-2181 BCE.





Chapter 1: Introduction

Aims and Objectives

The role of visual culture in ancient Egypt

Contextualising the early 6th Dynasty: An Overview

Security and harsh men?

Archaeological Background: The Tomb of Mereruka

The Funerary Chambers of Watetkhethor

The Research Focus

Rationale: Why this study?

Contextualising terms: Art and Ritual

The Structure of the Study: Chapter Overview


Chapter 2: Literature Review

Early Perspectives

New Perspectives


Chapter 3: Methodology

Panofsky’s Iconological System

Malafouris’s Material Engagement Theory


Chapter 4: Art as Ritual Engagement

Watetkhethor as facilitator

Watetkhethor’s presence in Mereruka’s chambers

Watetkhethor and autonomous funerary cult

The Pillared Hall (B1)

The staircase in the chambers of Watetkhethor (B2)

The Serdab Room, B3, B4

The Burial Chapel, B5


Chapter 5: Study Synthesis

Looking forward: Art as Action, Art as Gendered

The limitations of this study

Directions for future research




About the Author

Barbara O’Neill completed an Mres (awarded with distinction) at the University of Winchester in 2015. This work focused upon ancient Egyptian offering tables scenes, particularly those assigned exclusively to women, in Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt (published with Archaeopress the same year). The author’s PhD research (2016-2021) carried out at the University of Winchester, centred on the role of the divine feminine in ancient Egyptian funerary art (University of Winchester). An MA in Egyptology (awarded with distinction) was completed online with the University of Manchester (2021) where the author was part of the first cohort of a Masters programme led by Professor Joyce Tyldesley.