Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

“Social Organization in Medieval Upper Nubia Using Nonmetric Traits of the Skull” Emily Rose Streetman

December 8, 2017 @ 3:30 pm - 5:30 pm

Please join us for the dissertation defense of Emily Rose Streetman as she presents her doctoral research, SOCIAL ORGANIZATION IN MEDIEVAL UPPER NUBIA USING NONMETRIC TRAITS OF THE SKULL.

Scholars have long been fascinated by the monumental ancient temples and royal tombs of northern Sudan. Yet for thousands of years, it has been rural agricultural communities that have dominated the riverbanks and islands of the Middle Nile. And although the Medieval Period (500–1500 CE) has received increased archaeological attention in this region over the past 20 years, there are still significant gaps in our knowledge of social organization and population structure throughout Nubian history. Using human skeletal remains from three medieval Middle and Upper Nubian rural agricultural sites, this dissertation explores biological affinity within and between cemeteries. Where possible, these results, obtained using nonmetric traits of the skull, are also compared to existing craniometric analyses performed on overlapping samples.

The main skeletal sample is composed of adults from three cemeteries at the fourth cataract site of Mis Island. For the first time, this includes individuals from the cemetery surrounding the church. Remains from two cemeteries at Kulubnarti, about 300 km northwest of Mis Island, and one cemetery at Gabati, about 250 km southeast of it, are also used. Through a series of biological distance (biodistance) analyses and additional tests, this research explores biological relationships among groups at multiple scales and shows that cranial nonmetric and metric data produce the same results when overlapping samples are used.

The three-site biodistance analysis shows a closer relationship between the two northern sites with Gabati as an outlier, and there is a high correlation between this and craniometric analyses (Vollner 2016). However, a comparison with additional African samples using freely available global nonmetric data failed to produce meaningful results, likely because of differing data collection methods, a problem that plagues cranial nonmetric trait research. A six-cemetery biodistance analysis shows Mis Island cemeteries being closely related, but Kulubnarti cemeteries are strongly divergent. Other tests quantifying the variance within each sex reveal no strong preference in any community for either virilocal or uxorilocal postmarital residence, which concurs with previous craniometric findings (Vollner 2016). Finally, kin clusters were not identified as an organizing principle in any Mis Island cemetery.

The results of this dissertation support the suggestion that Mis Island, specifically the cemetery surrounding the church, served as a political refuge or medical treatment center in the later Medieval Period, since this cemetery was the most biologically diverse of Mis Island cemeteries. These findings also demonstrate that not only was the island community at Kulubnarti more physiologically stressed than the mainland population, but this group was both biologically homogeneous and biologically biologically isolated from its neighbors at Kulubnarti and all groups at Mis Island. More broadly, this research supports the idea that in rural agricultural communities in Upper Nubia, medieval social organization emphasized church or community membership over kin groups and suggests that the sexes contributed equally to subsistence.


438-A, East Fee Hall

965 Fee Rd

East Lansing,


United States

+ Google Map


Department of Anthropology