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

Early to Late Christian Burial Practices at Mis Island: Religious Community and the Concept of Identity


1Anthropology, Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, 2Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University

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This research focuses on a sample of 407 individuals from two medieval Nubian Christian cemeteries on Mis Island at the Fourth Cataract. Cemetery 3-J-11 dates to approximately AD 300-1400 and cemetery 3-J-10 to approximately AD 1100-1500. Arc-GIS spatial maps and statistical methods were used to analyze mortuary patterns according to cemetery chronology, age, sex, and to determine whether mortuary practices reflected communal, familial, or individualized social structures.

Results demonstrate significant differences in spatial organization and distribution of burials between the sites. Cemetery 3-J-11 was organized into multiple clusters, each with a mixture of pre-Christian, transitional, and Christianized burial patterns. It is possible that family or corporate-based spaces established in the pre-Christian or transitional period continued to be used, even as the community began to adhere to Christian burial practice. Conversely, cemetery 3-J-10 was homogenous without detectable burial clusters. Instead, distinctions in burial practice were reliant upon membership within age cohorts. Young subadults (<13) were spatially segregated to the edges of the cemetery, had more variable burial patterns, and were more likely to be buried with personal adornment. Alternatively, adolescents (13-19) and adults (>20) were located within the core of the cemetery in an extended-supine position, and without grave inclusions.

In conclusion, the homogenized mortuary patterns at cemetery 3-J-10 demonstrate that membership within age cohorts and the larger Christian community became more important than membership within specific family or status groups. Thus, 3-J-10 may have been consecrated to demonstrate a more Christianized identity in the Late Medieval Period at Mis Island.

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