The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Set apart from within: Articulated women in commingled tombs from Early Bronze Age Arabia


1Department of Sociology, Anthropology, & Social Work, University of South Alabama, 2Department of Sociology, Criminal Justice, and Anthropology, Quinnipiac University, 3Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

April 17, 2020 , Diamond 10 Add to calendar

During the Umm an-Nar (2700-2000 BCE) period in southeastern Arabia, monumental tombs contained the commingled remains of hundreds of people of all ages and sexes. However, two fully articulated individuals were recovered from predominantly commingled mortuary contexts at Shimal (Unar 2) and Tell Abraq. Both were young adult females who had been intentionally protected from commingling. This research examined the social identities that facilitated their special treatment in death through mortuary and bioarchaeological analyses.

The poorly preserved skeleton of the local (87Sr/86Sr = 0.70882) Unar 2 female revealed a lytic lesion on the left talus, suggestive of a tumor which may have impacted her mobility. She was interred with a fully articulated dog, the only burial of its kind in the region. The Tell Abraq individual exhibited non-local strontium (87Sr/86Sr = 0.70862) isotope ratios in her first and third molars, indicating that she migrated to the site in her mid-teens, where she contracted paralytic poliomyelitis before her death at 18-20 years of age.

Both women suffered from conditions which impaired their mobility. While they were permitted access to these collective tombs, they were also segregated within these structures and received differential mortuary treatment. This may suggest that they were honored in death for some special social role (e.g., hunting with a companion animal). Conversely, they may have been purposefully excluded from normal interment practices due to disease stigma related to mobility, resulting in these women being denied access to joining the ancestor collective created via commingling.

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation (Award #1852426). 

Slides/Poster (pdf)