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

The cemeteries of Amara West: Investigating the impact of climate and political change on health and living conditions in an ancient town in Upper Nubia (13th – 8th centuries BC)


Department of Archaeology, Durham University, Uk

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Amara West, located on the left bank of the Nile near the Dal Cataract in northern Sudan, served as the administrative capital of Egyptian-occupied Upper Nubia during the late New Kingdom between 1250 and 1070 BC. Settlement continued after Egyptian control ended until the 8th century BC, coinciding with a period of climatic deterioration affecting the Middle Nile region during the late 2nd and early 1st millennium BC. Archaeological and paleoenvironmental data from the ongoing multidisciplinary study of the settlement, cemeteries and surrounding landscapes support the notion of significant cultural and environmental changes after the breakdown of colonial control.

This study aims to investigate the impact of these climatic and political changes, likely to have been significant factors in the abandonment of the site, on the health and living conditions of the town’s inhabitants. Macroscopic examination of multiple markers of physiological stress and disease including cribra orbitalia, non-specific infection (periosteal reactions on long bones and ribs, maxillary sinusitis, endocranial changes), trauma, stature, osteoarthritis and dental pathology was conducted on human skeletal remains (N=140) recovered from two cemeteries. Both cemeteries contain New Kingdom and post-New Kingdom graves, allowing evaluation of diachronic changes in the inhabitants’ health status. Several factors, such as decreasing stature, age-at-death, and high levels of subadult mortality indicate an increasingly challenging living environment during the post-New Kingdom period. An increase in postcranial fractures during the later phase, particularly affecting the axial skeleton, may suggest different subsistence strategies prompted by the changing environment.

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