Sifting Sand in Sudan: New Light on Life and Death in Ancient Nubia
Abstract: The Bioarchaeology of Nubia Expedition (BONE) project area lies between the fourth and fifth cataracts of the Nile River in northern Sudan, covering an area nearly 100 m2. Fieldwork and lab research have documented sites as old as the Early (>250,000 years ago) and Middle Stone Age. Work has emphasized habitation, rock art/gong, and cemetery sites dating from the Mesolithic to Christian periods in the eastern portion of the project area. Spatial and contextual relationships between archaeological sites and the natural environment are examined, particularly among clusters of Kerma period graves (c. 2500-1500 B.C.) and for Post-Meroitic fortifications and cemeteries (c. 350-550 A.D.) within a broader region. This research provides insight into people’s adaptations to the environment and ties to core areas of state societies through time. Grave architecture and treatment of the dead show variable local practices but inclusion of imported grave goods reveals integration into far-flung trade networks from the Kerma through Christian (c. AD 550-1400) periods. Persistence of local traditions, spatial and social organization of cemeteries, and distinct identities marked in life (e.g., dental avulsion) or death (e.g., interment with archery equipment) illuminate new aspects of ancient Nubian mortuary behavior and identity. Additionally, indicators of residential mobility, diet, and disease in the skeletons reveal shifting patterns of subsistence and the life histories of specific individuals in different eras.
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