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

Analysis of fauna in Post-Meroitic tumuli at the Ginefab School Site, Sudan


School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University

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Analysis of faunal remains from human habitation sites has long been used as a source of inference concerning the role of animals in past societies. Inclusion of faunal material is common in mortuary contexts, but it is surprisingly under-analyzed in bioarchaeological investigations. In Sudan, cemeteries have included remains from both domestic and wild animals since the Neolithic period.

To investigate how animals were used in Post-Meriotic (c. A.D. 350-550) mortuary rites, a multivariable faunal analysis (N=467) was conducted on six tumuli from the Ginefab School site in northern Sudan. Tumuli consist of three parts—a superstructure, grave shaft, and burial chamber. The spatial distribution of faunal material differs between grave shafts and burial chambers. Grave shafts possessed 24 of 30 (80%) identifiable canid specimens, whereas 98 of 158 (62%) identifiable bovid specimens were found in burial chambers, in proximity to the human remains. This disproportionate distribution of taxa suggests different species played preferential roles in mortuary rites. In addition, skeletal element abundance and bone surface modification were analyzed macroscopically and microscopically with a Nikon SMZ1000 microscope. In burial chambers, skeletal elements with the highest meat utility index (i.e., femora and humeri) were most frequent. Of the 70 cut-marked specimens, 64 (91%) showed concentrations around epiphyseal ends, implying disarticulation rather than defleshing. Thus, the choicest cuts of meat were intentionally interred with human remains. This study shows that faunal material can be used to investigate social dynamics, particularly concerning burial rites, and should be an integral part of bioarchaeological research.

This material 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). This research was supported in part by a School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Undergraduate Research Assistantship and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (Grant No. DGE-0802261) awarded to J.A. Harris.

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