Earlier Ancient Egyptian Mortuary Texts Variability

MORTEXVAR looks into the Ancient Egyptian Pyramid and Coffin Texts (c 2350-1550 BC), and other related materials, for changes in the language, spellings, texts, beliefs, material culture, social data, and historical context.

The photograph is the courtesy of the Middle Kingdom Theban Project



The interdisciplinary (philology, linguistics, graphemics and cultural studies) 4-year project (July 2019 – June 2023, University of Alcalá) The Earlier Ancient Egyptian Mortuary Texts Variability (2018-T1/HUM-10215, “Atracción de Talento” Programme, Madrid Region), proposes a nuanced appraisal of the construction and function of the mortuary texts from Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt (2350-1550 BC) using ‛variability’ as an explanatory concept and an electronic-geared corpus-driven approach. It focuses on central cultural issues concerning the ritual context, archaeological trace, ideological interpretation, socio-cultural function and philological text-forming and transmission of the texts devoted to ensuring a post-mortem activity for the deceased from ancient Egyptian elite.

Research questions concentrate on two main axes:

  • How were earlier ancient Egyptian mortuary texts shaped out the way they are? Was there a core of texts from one focus or multiple foci that implemented modifications and/or innovations depending on the cultural changes through time and space?

  • How can this materialize in the texts and their material context? How can we properly value the weight of tradition and innovation in the process of creating and transmitting these texts?



MORTEXVAR explores the concept of ‛variability’ in two groups of fundamental texts concerning the post-mortem activity of the ancient Egyptian elite: the so-called transformation spells and transfiguration spells. This is the first time that this concept has been addressed in this manner.



MORTEXVAX focuses on changes, which are inherently hard to grasp, in that they can adopt many shapes, from mere mistakes to the creation of new traditions, through reinterpretations of different degrees (versions, pastiches, repetitions, omissions...). Furthermore, to the modern observer, these changes appear intertwined within more than one "sphere", including writing, language, textual units and artefacts.



MORTEXVAR is mainly concerned with changes occurring in the mainstream mortuary texts of the early stages of ancient Egypt, the so-called Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts. Other related texts, including the so-called Book of the Dead or the Letters to the Dead, will be on the rear mirror as well.

Photographs are the courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York



Project director

PhD in Egyptology (École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris 2008), Carlos is an "Atracción de Talento" Researcher at the University of Alcalá (Alcalá de Henares, Madrid).

He coordinates the Red Iberoamericana de Investigadores en Próximo Oriente Antiguo) with Roxana Flammini, co-writes the academic blog Egygraph with Angela McDonald, is an epigrapher for the Middle Kingdom Theban Project, a tutor of Ancient Studies (Egyptology) at the University of Glasgow and a fellow of the Academia de España at Rome.
Carlos is mainly interested in empirical linguistics, graphemics and text analysis; he concentrates on the Old and Middle Kingdom mortuary texts.


Doctoral fellow

Sika Pedersen holds a Bachelor and a Master of Arts in Egyptology from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), with a MA semester at the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool (United Kingdom).

During her MA, Sika taught Middle Egyptian courses and ancient Egyptian history courses in her capacity as teaching assistant at the University of Copenhagen, and has been working as a research assistant transcribing several administrative and literary New Kingdom ostraca and writing tablets.

In January 2020, Sika is starting a three-year PhD fellowship in Egyptology at the University of Alcalá as part of the MORTEXVAR project studying the ancient Egyptian mortuary texts from the Old and Middle Kingdom. Her main interests are ancient Egyptian administration both on institutional and private levels, and ancient Egyptian textual material, especially hieratic.


IT specialist

Graduated in engineering in telecommunications technologies from Universidad de Alcalá, Anthonny specializes in creating web applications with RESTful API paradigm, using Django Rest Framework. He has knowledge in the use of databases both relational (with MySQL, PostgreSQL among others) and non-relational like MongoDB.

Currently, Anthonny is a Software developer at Making Science. He has previously worked in the Bankia accounting system, in an accounting system for Mapfre, and in the design of a multiplatform application for online medical assistance.



Postdoctoral researcher, Universidad de Jaén.
Doctor in Egyptology from Lyon 2 University (France), Gersande Eschenbrenner Diemer is Postdoctoral fellow at Universidad de Jaén (Spain) and research associate at Laboratoire ArScAn UMR 7041 Nanterre (France).
She specializes in the study of woodcraft: from the artefact production to the economic, religious and social wood networks.
She has been Marie-Curie fellow at the Institute of Archaeology of the University College of London (2016-2018) developing a research project around woodcraft as societal tracer through a global approach. Since 2014, she is a member of the archaeological missions of Qubbet el-Hawa (Aswan), Deir el-Medina (Luxor) and Islamic Cairo, Fustat (Cairo) for the study of wooden furniture and identification of production workshops.

Professor of Egyptology, Università di Pisa.
Doctor in Egyptology from the University of Pisa, Gianluca Miniaci is Associate Professor in Egyptology at the same university, director of the archaeological mission to Zawyet el-Maiyitin (Menya, Egypt), deputy-director of the University of Pisa excavation at Thebes, in the cemetery of Dra Abu el-Naga. He is editor-in-chief of the international series Middle Kingdom Studies (Golden House Publications, London), of the Journal of Egyptian History (Brill, Leiden), and of the series Ancient Egypt in Context (Cambridge University Press).
He has been Marie Curie Research Fellow at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris, and at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, London.
He has extensively published on the history, archaeology and the funerary culture in ancient Egypt.

PhD in Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania, Antonio Morales is Associate Professor of Egyptology at the Seminar of Ancient History in the University of Alcalá (UAH, Alcalá de Henares, Madrid), and the Director of the Middle Kingdom Theban Project.
Previously, he was Lecturer in Egyptology at Freie Universität Berlin.
He is currently organizing an Egyptological program at the University of Alcalá, mainly focused on pharaonic history, religion, language, and culture. The new program already includes courses on Egyptian language (Middle Egyptian, hieratic, Late Egyptian), Egyptian literature, and ancient Egyptian magic and religion.
He specialises in the material philology of Old and middle Kingdom mortuary texts, and the history of the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. Among other topics, he has published extensively on the textual transmission, text orality and entextualization of the Pyramid Texts.

Assistant Professor of Egyptology, Emory University, Atlanta.

Doctor in Egyptology from the University of Copenhagen, Rune Nyord is Assistant Professor of Ancient Egyptian Art and Archaeology at Emory University, Atlanta, editor of the ‘Egyptology’ area of the UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, and external examiner for Egyptology, University of Copenhagen.

He has been Research Associate at the Ägyptologisches Seminar and SFB 980 ‘Episteme in Bewegung’, Freie Universität Berlin; and Lecturer, Research Associate (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research), and Lady Wallis Budge Junior Research Fellow (Christ’s College) at the University of Cambridge.

He has extensively researched and published in cognitive linguistics and anthropology applied to ancient Egyptian topics such as the conception of the body, post-mortem individual identity, and visual perception.

Doctor in Egyptology from the Universität Basel, Andréas Stauder is Full Professor (directeur d’études) of Egyptian at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, IVe Section, Université PSL, Paris.
He is the scientific co-editor of the section ‛Language’ of the UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, University of California Los Angeles. He has been the director of the Research team EA 4519 ‘Égypte ancienne: archéologie, langue, religion’ (EPHE), and of the Initiative de Recherche Interdisciplinaire Stratégique ‘Scripta-PSL: Histoire et pratiques de l’écrit’ (PSL). In Basel, he has directed the research projects ‘Materialität und Semantik komplexer Schriftsysteme’ (National Center of Competence and Research ‛eikones’, Swiss National Science Foundation & Universität Basel), and ‘The Old Egyptian Verb: Functions in Text’ (Universität Basel).
Prior to joining the EPHE, PSL, he has held a postdoctoral appointment at Universität Basel, a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago, and has been an invited lecturer at the Université de Liège.
He has published extensively on the ancient Egyptian language, the Egyptian writing system, and Middle Egyptian literature.

PhD in Egyptology at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Zsuzsanna Végh is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in Edinburgh as well as Tutor in Egyptology at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. She has been awarded prestigious fellowships in Germany (such as the travel grant of the German Archaeological Institute) and has been visiting scholar at the University of Oxford.
Her research focuses on ancient Egyptian religion, in particular on how a cult of a new god (Osiris) was established and integrated into the regional and interregional theological system in the Old and Middle Kingdom, how religious texts were produced, in which contexts they were used and how these contexts influenced their transmissions. She has published and presented on the topic and is currently preparing a monograph on the cult of Osiris in Abydos. She is a member of the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Thebes, South Khokha Project and has been involved in various museum projects all over Europe (State Museum of Egyptian Art in Munich, Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, the National Museum of Scotland, and the British Museum).






  • Gracia Zamacona, C.  Imagining Henenu. Near Eastern Archaeology 82.2: 75-81

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. The semantics of the verb sDr in the Coffin Texts: Actancy and Aktionsart. Boletín de la Asociación Española de Egiptología 28: 41-76.



  • Gracia Zamacona, C. Some remarks for a multidimensional approach to the Coffin Text unique spells. In A. Jiménez Serrano & A.J. Morales (eds.), Middle Kingdom palace culture and its echoes in the provinces (Harvard Egyptological Studies 12). Leiden & Boston: Brill, 171-222.

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. (In(ter))discipline: The case of Egyptology. Aula Orientalis 39/1: 53-75.

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. Textos de los Ataúdes. In A.J. Morales (ed.), Cultos, mitos y prácticas mágicas en el antiguo Egipto: textos religiosos (2800 a.C. - 1000 d.C.). (57 pages)

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. Divine words in the ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts (c 2000-1500 BC). In Ch. Meccariello & J. Singletary (eds.), Uses and misuses of ancient Mediterranean sources: Erudition, authority, manipulation (SERAPHIM). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck (30 pages).

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. & Ortiz García, J. (eds.) Handbook of digital Egyptology: Texts (Monografías de Oriente Antiguo). Universidad de Alcalá. (Collective volume)

  • Pedersen, S. & Gracia Zamacona, C. The sarcophagus of Henenu (TT313): Fragments from recent excavations, and pictures from old archives. In Actas del VIII Congreso del Centro de Estudios del Próximo Oriente (15 pages)


  • Gracia Zamacona, C. Modulating semograms: Some procedures for semantic specification and re-categorization in the Pyramid Texts and other mortuary texts. In J. Cervelló & M. Orriols (ed.), Signs, language and culture: the semograms of the Pyramid Texts between iconicity and referential reality (Harvard Egyptological Studies) (32 pages)

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. On the donation formula di.(w) m Hz.wt n.t xr nsw n Aperson r Btemple: a case of diffuse ditransitive construction. TBD (12 pages).

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. Writing sDr in the Coffin Texts. In J. Levenson & S. Hartlepp (eds.), Substitution: Narrowing or broadening of knowledge? (30 pages).

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. Los Textos de los Ataúdes del antiguo Egipto. Enciclopedia Digital de los Mundos Antiguos.

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. & Contreras, A. MORTEXVAR Database (Open Access Database).

  • Gracia Zamacona, Carlos (ed.). Lenguas modernas y antiguas: Diferencias y similitudes en el estudio de la semántica verbal (Estudios Orientales - Monografías RIIPOA 1) (Collective volume).

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. Variability in the earlier Egyptian mortuary texts: Two possible issues in diachrony: ʿ / ỉ / r / zero variation, and the nature of the oblique agent. In A. Pillon (ed.), Chronologies and contexts of the First Intermediate Period (Bibliothèque d'Étude). Cairo: IFAO (20 pages).


  • Gracia Zamacona, C & Barriales Valbuena, I. Coffin Text spells variability: In-document position and geographical distribution. (Monograph).

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. (ed.). Variability in the Earlier Mortuary Texts and related materials. TBD (Collective volume).

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. Los Textos de los Ataúdes del antiguo Egipto (Ancient Near East Monographs). Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature (Book contract signed).



  • Gracia Zamacona, Carlos (organiser). I Taller de Estudios Interdisciplinares sobre el Antiguo Egipto (international workshop with contributions by J. Santos, J. Ortiz, L. Olabarria, I. Barriales, A.J. Morales and R. Díaz). Universidad de Alcalá

  • Gracia Zamacona, Carlos (contributor). VIII Congreso Nacional del Centro de Estudios del Próximo Oriente: EX ORIENTE AD LIMINA, Universidade da Coruña

  • Gracia Zamacona, Carlos (invited talk). Textos para un sacerdote lector y tres médicos de la corte en el Egipto del Reino Medio (c 2000-1500 a.Jc.). Seminar Dvctvs II, CSIC, Madrid



  • Gracia Zamacona, Carlos (invited talk). Tachando de la lista: marcas de verificación oral en los Textos de los Ataúdes del Antiguo Egipto (c. 2000-1500 a.JC.). Seminar Dvctvs III, CSIC, Madrid

  • Gracia Zamacona, Carlos (organiser). Talller internacional online Lenguas modernas y antiguas: diferencias y similitudes en el estudio de la semántica verbal (International workshop online, with contributions by Márcia Cançado & Luana Amaral, José Virgilio García Trabazo, Carlos Gracia Zamacona, Maria Agustina Morando and Christophe Rico). Red Iberoamericana de Investigadores en Próximo Oriente Antiguo.


  • Gracia Zamacona, Carlos (invited seminar TBD). Un viaje siguiendo al Sol: los Textos de los Ataúdes del Egipto antiguo (c. 2000-1500 a.Jc.). Centro de Estudios del Próximo Oriente / Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid

  • Gracia Zamacona, Carlos (invited lecture TBD). Papiros de los Ataúdes: documentos para el difunto en el antiguo Egipto. Ciclo de conferencias Dioses, tumbas y papiros. Fundación Cajamurcia, Murcia

  • Gracia Zamacona, Carlos (invited talk). International conference Chronologies and contexts of the First Intermediate Period (organised by Andrea Pillon). Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, Cairo.

  • Gracia Zamacona, Carlos (collaborator). I Congreso Iberoamericano de Jóvenes Investigadores en Egiptología (I CIJIE). Universidad de Alcalá.

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. & Morales, A.J. (invited talk). International conference ASOR 2021 conference. University of Chicago / Online.


  • Gracia Zamacona, Carlos (invited seminar TBD). Variability in ancient Egyptian mortuary texts: The project MORTEXVAR. Higher School of Economics, Moscow.

  • Gracia Zamacona, Carlos (organiser). International online MORTEXVAR conference (with publication of a collective volume in 2023).




  • Gracia Zamacona, C. The MORTEXVAR project: Valuing variability in the ancient Egyptian mortuary texts. Cadmo – Revista de História Antiga 29: 275-280.

  • Gracia Zamacona, C. Cómo convertirse en pulga, y con qué fin: la fórmula 49 de los Textos de los Ataúdes. Revista Digital de los Mundos Antiguos.

  • "Semana de la Ciencia 2021” (Comunidad de Madrid - Universidad de Alcalá)


  • Participation in the programme “Semana de la Ciencia” (Comunidad de Madrid - Universidad de Alcalá)

  • Lecture at high school in the Madrid Region (TBD)


  • Lecture at high school in the Madrid Region (TBD)



LEIRE OLABARRIA, Lecturer, University of Birmingham
ROBERTO DÍAZ HERNÁNDEZ, Researcher, Independent scholar
JÓNATAN ORTIZ GARCÍA, Researcher, Universidad de Alcalá
JOSUÉ SANTOS SAAVEDRA, Researcher, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
ANA CATARINA APOLINÀRIO DE ALMEIDA, Researcher, Universidade de Lisboa
IKER BARRIALES VALBUENA, Researcher, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid


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Carlos Gracia Zamacona
Seminario II de Historia Antigua - Colegio de Trinitarios
C/ Trinidad 1
Alcalá de Henares 28801
Madrid (Spain)

(+34) 91 885 5271