Bioarchaeology of the Near East, 9:21-43 (2015)

The church at Amheida (ancient Trimithis) in the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt. A bioarchaeological perspective on an Early Christian mortuary complex

Nicola Aravecchia (1), Tosha L. Dupras* (2), Dorota Dzierzbicka (3), Lana Williams (2)

(1) Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University,
15 East 84th Street, New York, NY, 10028 USA
(2) Department of Anthropology, University of Central Florida,
Orlando, Florida, 32816 USA
email: (corresponding author)
(3) Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw,
Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28, 00-927 Warszawa, Poland

Abstract: Excavations at the site of Amheida (ancient Trimithis), Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt have identified a Christian church (Building 7), dated to the 4th century CE. While other 4th century churches have been identified in the Dakhleh Oasis and elsewhere in Egypt, the unexpected discovery of burials and a subterranean crypt distinguishes this church as unique in possibly hosting the earliest known example of a funerary crypt in Egypt. Excavations to date have revealed eight burials, five within the church complex, and three in the crypt. Four of the burials inside the church have been investigated; the remaining ones will be the subject of excavation in future seasons. Little is known about the use of early Christian churches as mortuary complexes, particularly who was allowed to be buried in these buildings and if there was a correlation between social hierarchy of the deceased and proximity of his/her burial to the area of the sanctuary. Here we present our findings on four of the individuals buried within the church. Analyses indicate that two individuals were adult males, one was an adult female, and the other was an approximately 15-17 year-old female. One of the adult males, aged 45 to 50 years at death, displayed a myriad of pathological conditions most likely linked to a major traumatic event. The adult female, aged 30 to 35 years at death, and the other adult male, aged 35 to 40 years of age, both showed few pathological conditions beyond healed fractures. The young female displayed a number of lytic lesions that may have been related to a metastatic cancer. The demographic profile and pathological conditions of these individuals challenge the notion of who might be buried in such a church complex. The combination of archaeological and skeletal evidence allows us to further understand who these individuals were, and how such a complex was used in the 4th century CE.

Key words: Christianity; skeletons; palaeopathology; crypt; trauma; burials; neoplasm

Received 21 September 2015; accepted 21 November 2015; published online 21 December 2015.

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