Predynastic Egypt Agriculture and Health

Some of the class lectures have talked at length about the development of agriculture in Egypt and the way agriculture fits into classifying predynastic Egypt.  This got me thinking about the effects agriculture would have on the overall health and nutrition of the population.  Could nutrition and health be analyzed through examination of human remains from burials?  With agriculture’s prominence, would the population see an increase in health due to a consistent supply of a variety of food?  Or would there be an increase in disease occurrences because the agriculture is ensuring a sedentary lifestyle?

The low floods and high floods of the Nile during predynastic Egypt are determinable by geological analysis of the soil and sediment layers.  I believe that these same seasons of famine could be mirrored in the remains of individuals, specifically the dentition.  Teeth will show striations, or lines/bands, that result from extreme fluxes in nutrients.  If Petrie’s sequence dating method, which correctly identified the timeline of ceramics in predynastic Egypt, is combined with radiocarbon dating, human remains from burials could be correctly placed in a timeline.  Further analysis of the remains would hopefully determine age at death for individuals.  Working backwards from these years, and using the standards for tooth formation and emergence, any bands on the teeth could provide estimates for years of high or low flooding.  These estimates could then be compared to those obtained geologically.  This method would only work if the famines brought about by the high and low flooding seasons were significant enough to cause malnutrition.

As far as nutrition is concerned, analysis of remains is a method of determining and comparing the health of pre-agriculture and post-agriculture Egyptians.  At first, it would seem that Egyptians received a better diet after agriculture was instated, considering they were producing, storing, and redistributing crops; however, they were at the mercy of the Nile.  An analysis and comparison of human remains from Fayum could shed some light on nutrition.  Fayum A was predynastic, and practiced full-time, settled agriculture.  Fayum B was truly Neolithic.  If remains, specifically dentition, from Fayum A and Fayum B were analyzed, then the prevalence of malnutrition could be compared between the two populations.  This is just one area, but other areas in Egypt could also be studied.

When comparing human remains, we could also look for bone markers that indicate disease.  With the implementation of agriculture, the population is going to become sedentary (instead of nomadic).  This sedentary lifestyle could provide an environment for diseases.  The close proximity of individuals can cause problems involving the disposal of human waste, etc. that lead to thriving diseases.

All of this together provides a plethora of research options (that may or may not have been attempted already).  But it is very interesting to see the cross-over of cultural and physical anthropology, not to mention geology and many more scientific disciplines.