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


The descent of Christianity: religious conversion and social change in Medieval Nubia

ANDREW C. SEIDEL and BRENDA J. BAKER.

Center for Bioarchaeological Research, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University

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The rapid spread of Christianity around the Old World was frequently accompanied by dramatic changes in social structure. Such social developments may have biological correlates that are archaeologically observable as alterations in the relationship between the biological affinity of individuals and their spatial patterning within a mortuary site. To assess whether such changes in social structure accompanied the introduction of Christianity to Upper Nubia, a principle components analysis was conducted using dental cervical measurements of 26 adults (570 teeth) from the Ginefab School Site, upstream of the Fourth Cataract of the Nile River. Both mortuary practices and radiocarbon dates indicate that interments at this site span the introduction of Christianity to the region. Component scores were subjected to an average-linking hierarchical cluster analysis. These results were then used to investigate the relationship between biological affinity and spatial location within the cemetery as well as whether or not such patterning exhibited diachronic change.

Results suggest that, during the post-Meroitic period (AD 350-550), biologically related males were interred in proximity to one another. During the subsequent Christian period (AD 550-1400) this structuring principle was relaxed and biologically related individuals of both sexes were interspersed throughout multiple burial clusters. Although sample size in this study is small, results suggest social re-organization coincident with the Christian conversion of Upper Nubia and complement findings from an analysis of cranial nonmetric traits in a larger sample from this cemetery. This study also illustrates the utility of intrasite kinship analyses for clarifying processes of social transformation.

This skeletal collection derives from fieldwork directed by B. J. Baker under licenses granted to Arizona State University by the US Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (Nos. SU-1897 & SU-2122), with support for fieldwork and lab processing provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (Award Nos. 07-1391, 07-1424, & 08-1472 [OFAC license No. SU-2071]) and The Regents of the University of California, and by the National Science Foundation (BCS-0647055).

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