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

Revisiting Jebel Sahaba: new apatite radiocarbon dates for one of the Nile valley’s earliest cemeteries


1Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, The British Museum, London, 2CNRS, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris

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Jebel Sahaba (site 117), a Paleolithic cemetery located near the 2nd Nile Cataract, was excavated by Fred Wendorf in the 1960s as part of the UNESCO High Dam Salvage Project. The skeletal remains of 46 adults and 13 subadults, as well as other fragmentary remains, were recovered from single and multiple burials. The assemblage was generously donated to the British Museum in 2001 and now forms part of the Wendorf collection. The skeletons are well-known for showing signs of a violent death, with several individuals with cut marks and embedded lithics, which may represent evidence of organized warfare. In 1988, a single skeleton was radiocarbon dated to 13,740 BP +/- 600 and Jebel Sahaba is generally regarded as one of the earliest cemeteries in the Nile valley. Unfortunately, collagen preservation at the site is poor, additional AMS dating was unsuccessful and some regard the dating as unreliable. The collection is central to several projects investigating the early inhabitants of the middle Nile Valley, including their biological affinity, and it was deemed necessary to confirm the dating of the site. Using the apatite fraction provides an alternative to collagen and four skeletons from across the site were selected for bone, enamel and dentine apatite radiocarbon dating (9 samples). The results suggest that the cemetery is at least 11,600 years old, confirming this burial site belongs to the Epipaleolithic and the Qadan culture. The range of results indicates that the samples were affected by diagenesis and the site may actually be older.

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