The Interrelatedness of Trauma and Political Instability in Ancient Nubia

The main objective of the current research paper is to provide a detailed analysis of the relationship between interpersonal violence and political instability in ancient Egypt and Nubia. This research paper will follow the guidelines of Buzon and Richman (2007) who previously investigated changes in government control through an assessment of fluctuations in skeletal trauma frequencies. Buzon and Richman compared the prevalence and pattern of injury observed on the skeletal remains recovered from two ancient Nubian sites, Tombos and Kerma.  The site of Tombos dates to the New Kingdom period (ca. 1550-1050BC) and represents an Egyptian colonial cemetery (Buzon and Richman, 2007, p.283).  Kerma is also a cemetery site dating to the Middle Kingdom period (ca. 2050-1650BC) (Buzon and Richman, 200, p.783). Throughout the New Kingdom period, Egypt succeeded in its occupation of nearly the entire southern region of Nubia (Buzon and Richman, 2007, p.283).  Therefore, Buzon and Richman (2007) hypothesized that the “mechanisms of control” subjected on the Nubians would have altered in form following the transition from the Middle Kingdom to the New Kingdom period (p.1).

The primary focus of the present paper is to provide a comprehensive review of potential fluctuations in the prevalence of traumatic injury beginning in pre-history throughout the Christian period.  This paper will expand the previous research efforts of Buzon and Richman and incorporate additional sites into the assessment of the relationship between trauma frequencies and political instability.  In addition to the sites of Tombos and Kerma, three additional Nubian skeletal samples will be analyzed, Hierakonpolis, Semna South, and Kulubnarti. Skeletal data recovered from the site of Hierakonpolis were drawn from cemetery HK43 which dates to the Naqada II period (~3800-3500 BCE) (Kumar, 2009). Hierakonpolis holds particular significance because it represents a time period in which the transition from prehistory to history took place.  The Naqaqda II period shows the rise of agriculture and the origin of state formation (Kumar,2009 ,p.2). The Semna South site dates to the Middle Kingdom period of Egyptian occupation of Nubia around 2000 B.C. (Alvrus 1999:418).  The Semna South sample consists of individuals excavated from three temporally distinct cemeteries.  The majority of burials date to the Meroitic period (after 400 A.D.), but there are also a number of burials from the Ballana culture (350-550 B.C.), and from the Christian period (550 – 1400 A.D.) (Alvrus 1999: 418).  Finally, Kulubnarti is an island located between the Second and Third Cataracts of the Nile River (Adams, 1994).  Archaeological excavation of the site uncovered multiple habitations sites, a cemetery and several rock picture locations  dating to the Christian period between the 6th and 16th century AD (Adams 1994; 1998; 1999).  Kulubnarti holds significance for the understanding of the cultural transition from Christianity to Islam in ancient Nubia (Adams 1994, p.4).

Through this bioarchaeological analysis of trauma it may be possible to answer the broader questions regarding the socio-political position of ancient Nubians and help to elucidate Nubia’s often volatile relationship with ancient Egypt. The present research will address the following questions: What do fluctuations in the level of violence signify about the changing political climate of the region?  Are there observable differences in the frequency of traumatic injuries recorded in the different temporal phases? How can differences in trauma frequencies or patterns be explained through referencing the ethnographic record?  Can changes in trauma frequencies be linked to the political or social complexity of a community?




Adams, William Y. (1994).  Kulubnarti I: The Architectural Remains.  Lexington: Program for Cultural Resource  Assessment, University of Kentucky.

Adams, William Y., and Nettie K. Adams (1998).  Kulubnarti II: The Artifactual Remains.  Sudan Archaeological Research Society Publication Number 2. Great Britian: Reigate Press Ltd.

Adams, William Y., Nettie K. Adams, Dennis P. Van Gerven, and David L. Green (1999)  Kulubnarti III: The Cemeteries.  Sudan Archaeological Research Society Publication Number 4. England: Basingstoke Press.

Alvrus, A. (1996)  Fracture Patterns Among the Nubians of Semna South, Sudan.  MA Thesis, Arizona State University.

Alvrus, Annalisa. (1999)  Fracture Patterns Among the Nubians of Semna South, Sudanese Nubia.  International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 9: 417-429.

Buzon, Michele R., and Rebecca Richman. (2007) Traumatic Injuries and Imperialism: The Effects of Egyptian Colonial Strategies at Tombos in Upper Nubia. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 133(2): 783–791.

Hogdin, Rebecca. (2012) Trauma at Akhetaten (Tell El-Amarna): Interpersonal Violence or Occupational Hazard. MA Thesis, University of Arkansas.

Kumar, Ankita. (2009) Health at Hierakonpolis, a Predynastic Settlement in Upper Egypt. PhD Dissertation, University of Arkansas.




1 thought on “The Interrelatedness of Trauma and Political Instability in Ancient Nubia

  1. Your topic seems very interesting! You seem as if you have found a wide range of reliable sources in order to support your argument, and the sites you are examining seem to be very relevant to Nubian traumatic injury.

    The only major critique that I have would be that you seem, to me, to be considering a far too large period of time. There are about 4000 years between Naqada II and the beginnings of the Christian period, and it represents an incredible amount of social and political change. I’m just not sure how looking at so relatively few mortuary remains from different sites could really give you the information you are looking for. Some of your questions seem as if they could not be answered with such little information either, such as “what do fluctuations in the level of violence signify about the changing political climate of the region?” I’m skeptical that you would be able to come to a more-or-less definitive answer to that question in particular when you are examining political change throughout such a large period of time, with so many different variables and factors to think about.

    That all being said, I think your topic will be very interesting if you focus on a much smaller range of time.

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