Bioarchaeology of the Near East, 12:1-32 (2018)

Colonial-indigene interaction in ancient Nubia. An integrative analysis of stress, diet, and ceramic data

Sarah A. Schrader* (1), Michele R. Buzon (2), Stuart T. Smith (3)

(1) Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University,
Einsteinweg 2, 2333 CC Leiden, The Netherlands
email: (corresponding author)
(2) Department of Anthropology, Purdue University,
700 West State Street, Suite 219, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA
(3) Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara,
2001 Humanities and Social Sciences Bldg, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA

Abstract: During the Middle Kingdom Period (2050-1650 BCE), the Egyptian Empire colonized Lower Nubia and constructed multiple fortresses along the Nile. Egyptian soldiers lived in these forts, while indigenous Nubians lived nearby. Written documents suggest this was an environmentally unstable period, characterized by unusually high river floods. In the later Middle Kingdom and after its decline into the Second Intermediate Period and New Kingdom, Egyptians cohabited the fortress space with Nubians. These colonial and post-colonial contexts are compelling and present a distinct opportunity to examine biology, culture, and environment.

We use an interdisciplinary approach to address the intersection of health (cribra orbitalia, enamel hypoplasia, stature), food (carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis), and material identities (ceramic assemblage). We found that despite the flooding events, the frequencies of skeletal indicators of physiological stress were not elevated. Social connections with Upper Nubia, evidenced by the ceramic assemblage, may have mitigated some of the health risks during floods. Isotope analysis suggests that Egyptians and Nubians were eating different foods, which may be tied to complex social practices. This study illustrates the importance of interdisciplinary and collaborative bioarchaeological research.

Key words: environment; physiological stress; carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis; Egypt; Nile valley

Received 14 June 2018; accepted 27 November 2018; published online 4 January 2019.

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