The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

The children of Amarna: disease and famine in the time of Akhenaten


Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas

Thursday Morning, 200DE Add to calendar

What is now known as Amarna, Egypt there once stood a grand city. Hastily built and quickly abandoned this once capital city of Egypt was the creation of the Pharaoh Akhenaton and was meant to be a utopia for his people. The art of the time period reflects a city filled with food and an abundance of other resources, but the remains of the commoners tell us a different story.

An unusual high number of individuals aged 3-25 have been excavated at the South Tombs Cemetery. Out of the 298 individuals excavated thus far, 43% of them fall into the adolescent and sub-adult category. Under normal circumstances this portion of the population tends to be the most robust and resilient, thus their representation in the archaeological record is generally very low. The skeletal material was analyzed, using the parameters set by Standards, for the presence of certain features indicative of stress; cribra orbitalia, linear enamel hypoplasias, and porotic hyperostosis, to determine why this is not the case for the commoner population at Amarna.

Out of 83 observable individuals aged 3-25, 51 show signs of cribra orbitalia and/or porotic hyperostosis, 34 have linear enamel hypoplasias, and at least four individuals show signs of possible scurvy, rickets, or folic acid deficiency. The result of such a high number of stress cases indicates a very unhealthy population who lacked access to proper nutrition, were malnourished, and diseased, which contradicts the historical images of a paradise in the desert.

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