Institute of Archaeology


Paulina Wandowicz

Broken, burnt, and buried: Magico-religious practice, power dynamics, and social control at Tell el-Amarna and Deir el-Medina

Picture of Paulina Wandowicz wearing a hat and is looking back at the camera as she walks down stairs to a burial chamber

Email: paulina.wandowicz.20@ucl.ac.uk

Section: World Archaeology 


Broken, burnt, and buried: Magico-religious practice, power dynamics, and social control at Tell el-Amarna and Deir el-Medina

My doctoral project investigates changes in ritual practices and their relation to power structures and social dynamics in second millennium BCE Egypt. My aim is to develop a novel theoretical methodology for approaching societal changes in the material record centred on practice and transmission, which will allow for a ‘bottom-up’ understanding of ways in which privileged groups used ritual practice as a tool of power to manipulate or control. In my research, I seek to draw from a range of disciplines encompassing anthropology and sociology of religion, material philology, and psychological mechanisms by which rituals promote social cohesion.

I focus on the ritualised breaking, burning, and burying of objects in Tell el-Amarna and Deir el-Medina. Those two sites straddle key socio-political changes in the period: disruption of established social hierarchies and changes in expressions of ‘piety’. This makes them ideal case studies for my research because structures of power and their tenuousness are particularly apparent in moments of change.

I will also contextualise the material evidence for the subject practices in deeper and broader comparative perspectives, tracing them back to earlier periods and placing them within emerging research in archaeology in which the vast Egyptological dataset has been absent due to disciplinary boundaries. The expanded understanding of these practices will enable drawing more general conclusions on conceptions of ritual activities and analysing the relevance of ritual practice in negotiation of power. It will also enable reconsidering the concept of ‘piety’ and its relation to religious display through the lens of ritual practice.




  • MSci, Geology, University of Bristol, 2014
  • Grad Dip, Archaeology, UCL, 2021
  • MA, Archaeology and Heritage of Egypt and the Middle East, UCL, 2023

Wandowicz, P. (2023). ‘Fertility votives reused? Moving beyond the representational and exploring patterns in material, contextual, and use-wear variation in female anthropomorphic figurines’, Reading Reuse: Image recycling in Egypt and beyond conference. Institut français d’archéologie orientale, Cairo, 30 October – 2 November 2023.

Wandowicz, P. (2022). ‘Broken pieces: a practice-focused approach to ceramic female figurines in Middle to New Kingdom Egypt’, Clay figurines in context: Miniatures as crucibles of Nile Valley societies in the second millennium BC (Egypt and Nubia) conference. University of Pisa, 17 – 19


Wandowicz, P. (2022). ‘Breaking into pieces: An experimental investigation into fracture behaviours in ceramic female figurines’, in Miniaci, G. (ed.) Breaking Images: Damage and Mutilation of Ancient Figurines. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 173-192.

Steen, P., Wandowicz, P. (2021). ‘Judging a book by its cover: a new project analysing leatherwork from Sur Island, Sudan’, AI, 24(1), pp. 173-180. doi: 10.14324/111.444.ai.2021.11.