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

Bioarchaeology at the multiperiod site of Al Khiday 2, central Sudan


Department of Archaeology, Durham University

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Al Khiday 2 is situated on the western bank of the White Nile, 35 km south of Omdurman. Ongoing excavations have revealed 126 burials belonging to three different periods-the pre-Mesolithic (>7000 B.C.; N=68), the Neolithic (4500-4000 B.C.; N=33) and the later Meroitic (radiocarbon dates from 100 B.C.-100 AD; N=25). This research aims to address differences in skeletal and dental health as well as biological parameters such as age at death and stature between these groups, hypothesizing that changing climatic conditions and subsistence strategies led to differences in disease exposure and dental health.

Using standard methods of paleodemography, childhood mortality was found to be highest in the Meroitic period, probably associated with higher population density and increasing desertification, although differential burial customs in the older samples may have excluded younger individuals from burial and biased the results. Macroscopic and radiographic analyses, however, attested to an increase in non-specific stress indicators such as cribra orbitalia, enamel hypoplasia and periosteal reaction in the Meroitic period, confirming that health deteriorated over time. In addition, adult stature was lower in the later period, while dental health (caries and antemortem tooth loss) was worse in the pre-Mesolithic and Neolithic individuals, which was an unexpected finding for non-agricultural populations.

Additional group differences, potentially signifying social identities, were found. Dental ablation was common in the pre-Mesolithic population, affecting maxillary central incisors. This custom, however, was rarely seen in the Neolithic group, where it only included mandibular central incisors, and was no longer observed in Meroitic individuals.

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