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Everyday Life after Collapse: A Bioarchaeological Examination of Entheseal Change and Accidental Injury in Postcolonial Nubia.

Imperial collapse was once conceptualized as a dramatic and absolute end to entire civilizations (Tainter 1988; Yoffee and Cowgill 1988). This perspective evokes images of sudden urban abandonment, environmental degradation, economic breakdown, catastrophic destruction, and violent warfare. More recently, this ominous notion of "collapse" has been eschewed in favor of approaches that recognize the continuation of lifeways after empire (Faulseit 2015; McAnany and Yoffee 2010; Schwartz and Nichols 2006). While scholars acknowledge there are components of social, political, economic, and/or ideological restructuring inherent in the dissolution of imperial rule, they correctly assert that existing populations can not only persist, but can thrive. These reorganized groups often recycle components of the previous polity and exercise agency in replacing aspects of the former system with new norms (Schwartz 2006; Sinopoli 1994). In this light, post-imperial peoples should be viewed as resilient, adaptable, and regenerative rather than as passive recipients of external collapse (McAnany and Yoffee 2010; Zovar 2012).

Indeed, that post-collapse populations are acknowledged at all reverses a decades-old trend that rendered these groups invisible; this is particularly salient in Egypto-Nubian archaeology. Initial interpretations of imperial New Kingdom collapse (1050 B.C.; Table 1) postulated that Egyptian withdrawal caused local Nubians to abandon their territories or revert to a tribal lifestyle (Adams 1977; Kendall 1982; Trigger 1976). The obscure period following New Kingdom collapse has been referred to as the Nubian "Dark Age" (ca. 1050-850 B.C.) due to this alleged regression of indigenous peoples (Adams 1977). The Egyptocentric preconceived notion that Nubians were not capable of existing independent of Egypt has contributed to the invisibility of post-collapse communities. Recent excavations have shown, however, that Nubia was not only populated during the alleged Dark Age but was expanding and undergoing its own process of state formation. The Egyptian imperial town of Tombos, located in Upper Nubia (Third Cataract of the Nile River), illustrates this point (Fig. 1). Archaeological research has revealed that the Tombos population continued after the collapse of the New Kingdom, well into the Third Intermediate and Napatan Periods (Buzon et al. 2016; Smith 2006, 2007). Tombos is one of few excavated sites that span this imperial and post-imperial period, making it an excellent locale to examine lifeways during this transformative time-frame. Rather than studying the causation factors of the collapse itself, as many have already done (see Morkot 1995, 2000; Torok 1992, 1995), here we aim to address everyday life in post-imperial Nubia.

It is in the mundane, monotonous, and day-to-day experiences that identity is constructed, cultural norms are re(produced), and life takes place (de Certeau 1988). Whether these experiences are viewed as minutiae (e.g., mannerisms, etiquette, taste, attire; Bourdieu 1977) or more broadly as social conduct that has the ability to transform social structures (Giddens 1984), many social scientists have drawn attention to the importance of daily action. Bioarchaeologists can contribute to this dialogue of everyday practice. The human skeletal frame is adaptable; it not only records specific events (e.g., acute trauma) but also changes with and according to repetitive stressors placed upon the body (e.g., augmentation of muscle attachment sites with increased activity). Thus, skeletal tissue can be viewed as a record of life events, shedding light on everyday experiences. These events and experiences occur within a complex web of social, economic, and political influences--human skeletal remains can, therefore, be viewed as the product of these embodied structures (Sofaer 2006). From this perspective, bioarchaeologists are able to assess direct evidence of lived experience, which is inherently social, economic, and political. Here, our central question is, Did people's daily routines and activities change with the collapse of the New Kingdom Empire? Using a bioarchaeological approach, we examine entheseal changes and accidental trauma to assess physical activity and injury as components of everyday life. We compare frequencies of these osteological indicators of everyday practice between the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate/Napatan Period skeletal samples from Tombos. In doing so, we address regional archaeological questions relating to lifeways during the imperial and post-imperial periods; we also bring to light the relevance of quotidian practice in post-collapse scenarios and suggest that these data can be viewed from a perspective that empowers local communities that endure after collapse.

Imperial Collapse and State Formation

The Egyptian Empire defeated Nubia at the onset of the New Kingdom Period. After 50 years of militaristic conquest, Egypt instituted a colonization policy in Nubian territories (O'Connor 1993). Under this new program, imperial efforts shifted toward incorporating local Nubian communities into the greater governmental structure via the construction of temple towns, the promotion of local administrators, and socioeconomic reorganization (Trigger et al. 1983). This initiated a period of Egyptian and Nubian coexistence that lasted several centuries (Smith 1997, 1998). During this time, Egyptians and Nubians intermarried, (1) entangled cultural practices, and created long-lasting communities (Buzon et al. 2016; Smith and Buzon 2014). The New Kingdom eventually became politically fragmented due to Libyan invasion, drought, and disunity of the priesthood of Amun at Thebes (Wilkinson 2007). Egypt gradually lost power in Nubia, initiating the Third Intermediate Period.

It was once thought that after the Egyptian Empire withdrew from Nubia, local Nubians either completely abandoned their territories or reverted to tribal and/or semi-nomadic lifestyles (Kendall 1982; Trigger et al. 1983). Recent excavations at Tombos and other contemporary sites, such as Amara West, show continued occupation from the New Kingdom Period through the Third Intermediate Period and into the Napatan Period (Binder and Spencer 2014; Binder et al. 2011; Buzon et al. 2016; Smith 2007, 2014; Smith and Buzon 2014; Spencer 2014; Spencer et al. 2012). While there remains a distinct need for further excavations focusing on this pivotal time period, there is sufficient evidence to refute depopulation and tribal hypotheses. By 850 B.C. the capital city at Napata had emerged, a Kushite royal lineage had formed, a unique religious ideology was present, and a large territory (Second to Sixth Cataracts; ca. 900 km) was sociopolitically unified. The Napatan state went on to conquer the Libyan rulers of Egypt (23rd and 24th Dynasties) and ruled both Egypt and Nubia as the 25th Dynasty. Napatan territory, extending from the Mediterranean to Upper Nubia, was the largest state to rule the upper Nile region from ancient through medieval times (O'Connor 1993).

There is a substantial gap in our knowledge of local Nubian populations between the New Kingdom and the Napatan state (1070-850 B.C.). In fact, we are uncertain when the Napatan state actually begins; some scholars have suggested that the origin of Napatan rule occurred slightly before 850 B.C. (Adams 1977; Kendall 1982; Trigger 1976). Others have proposed that the state expansion had already begun during the Third Intermediate Period (Kendall 1999; Morkot 1995, 2000, 2001; O'Connor 1993; Torok 1992, 1995). We ally ourselves with the latter argument because, as the scholars above have pointed out, a unified royal lineage, ideology, capital city, and extensive territory, would have required a substantial period of time to develop. However, we must also address the fact that the processes of state formation are closely linked with those of collapse; although these are difficult to disarticulate, at some point during the Third Intermediate Period the archaeological record is more reflective of Napatan state formation than of Egyptian imperial collapse. The wax and wane of centralized power is a common occurrence in prehistory (see Schwartz and Nichols 2006). The degree of instability in a post-collapse scenario varies and is influenced by several factors, including, but not limited to, the method of consolidation and tenor of former imperial control, the degree to which the local population was integrated into the previous political system, and the nature of collapse (Schwartz 2006; Sinopoli 1994). Thus, in some respects we are examining the simultaneous decline of the New Kingdom and the emergence of the Napatan state. As with many contexts, further archaeological excavation and research will elucidate the origins of the Napatan state and allow a more refined assessment of collapse versus state formation.

Excavations at Tombos indicate that the cemetery was in use during this pivotal time period (1070-850 B.C.). During the New Kingdom Period, Tombos likely served the Egyptian Empire as an outpost, controlling population movement, monitoring trade, and encouraging the imperial coexistence policy (Smith 2003). Situated at the Third Cataract, Tombos was an important internal border between the acculturated/colonized territories to the north and semi-autonomous/hegemonic territories farther south (Smith 2006). After the fall of the New Kingdom, the presence of radiocarbon-dated Napatan burials attest to the continuation of this population (Smith 2007). Recent strontium analysis suggests that these individuals were local and likely the offspring of Egyptian colonists and indigenous Nubians (Buzon and Simonetti 2013; Buzon et al. 2016). Further, the funerary culture of the Napatan burials at Tombos is culturally entangled with elements of both Nubian and Egyptian burial traditions. This situation was also present in the New Kingdom, but to a lesser extent; the Napatan Period bore witness to the revival of several traditional Nubian funerary practices, such as tumulus structures and flexed burials (Smith 2014). These analyses present pertinent information regarding funerary culture and locality; however, the everyday milieu of Napatan Tombos has yet to be addressed. In many cases, archaeologists might turn to the excavation of the settlement; however, the ancient town of Tombos lies directly underneath the modern one, as people have built and rebuilt this space over millennia. Nonetheless, bioarchaeological analysis of repetitive action and occupational injury can speak to the everyday life of individuals from Napatan Tombos.

Recent bioarchaeological research has furthered our understanding of the biocultural milieu that exists in post-collapse scenarios. Not only are these communities persisting, as evidenced by the material record, but they can be genetically homogeneous (Kemp et al. 2009); maintain past trade networks, agricultural practices, and consumption practices (Tribbett and Tung 2010); and be particularly violent (Tung 2008). In a multifaceted bioarchaeological approach, Kurin investigated rates of violence, trepanation, isotope ratios, nonmetric cranial traits, cranial modification, and negative health indicators within the context of Wari imperial collapse and the emergence of the Chanka society (Peruvian Andes, A.D. 900-1250; Kurin 2012, 2016); her results indicate that the post-imperial environment was violent, yet innovative in terms of cultural practices and social identities. We build upon these approaches by assessing osteological indicators of everyday actions, namely, entheseal changes and traumatic injury. These methods allow us speak broadly about the mundane lives of ancient populations.

Materials and Methods

Theoretically driven bioarchaeology approaches skeletal remains as material records of individuals who were once agentive social beings. Osteologists are able to go beyond the accustomed tasks of sex and age-at-death estimation; we are able to use osteological methods (e.g., isotope analysis, nonmetric trait analysis, interpersonal violence trauma) within archaeological contexts to address social topics including, but not exclusive to, population movement, resistance, and group identity. We suggest that bioarchaeology offers a valuable contribution to the examination of everyday lives and practices of ancient populations (Jurmain et al. 2012; Larsen 2002; Schrader 2012, 2013; see also Wesp 2015). Entheses (points of muscle/ligament attachment) are the products of physical motion; as a muscle is used repeatedly, strenuously, and for extended periods of time, the muscle increases in size and therefore needs a larger point of skeletal attachment (Hawkey and Merbs 1995). While specific activities and occupations cannot be reconstructed, bioarchaeologists can make broad comparisons (higher/lower) between groups with respect to physically strenuous actions. Similarly, osteological analysis of traumatic injury can tease apart violent from accidental injury, the latter of which is frequently associated with physically active occupations and/or intensive agropastoralism (Judd 2006). Thus, both entheseal changes and accidental traumatic injuries have the potential to inform our understanding of everyday life in the ancient past.

All skeletal material included here originates from Tombos, Sudan. Excavations at Tombos, directed by Dr. Stuart Tyson Smith (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Dr. Michele Buzon (Purdue University), have been ongoing since 2000. Remains included in this work have been dated using typological sequencing of mortuary contexts. The New Kingdom sample ranges from the settlement of the site, circa 1425 B.C., to the end of the 20th Dynasty, circa 1050 B.C. (see Table 2 for sample sizes). Due to sample-size constraints and range, the Third Intermediate and Napatan samples were combined from the end of the New Kingdom, circa 1050 B.C., to the end of the 25th Dynasty, circa 664 B.C. While pyramid tombs at Tombos are associated with individuals of higher socioeconomic status (see below), all individuals included in this study were interred in more modest tombs, likely indicative of a middle class (between high and low status; see Buzon 2006; Schrader 2012; Smith 2003). The Tombos skeletal collection is housed at Purdue University.

Sex and age were determined using os coxae and cranial morphology (Table 2; Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994). More specifically, age categories (young adult = 20-34 years, middle adult = 35-49 years, old adult = 50+ years) were estimated from degenerative changes to the pubic symphysis and auricular surface. Sub-adults were not used in this study due to the conflating issues of muscle attachment and development (Currey 2002; Robb 1998). Sex was determined using sexually dimorphic cranial and pelvic features as described in Buikstra and Ubelaker (1994). Males and females were combined to increase sample size; however, there are similar sex distributions in both samples (New Kingdom: 55 female, 42 male; Third Intermediate/Napatan: 29 female, 21 male). This pooling limits our potential discussion for reconstructing sex differences in activity patterns; however, separating samples into sex categories would have made statistical examination impossible.

Entheses are highly complex biological structures, defined by Benjamin et al. as "sites of stress concentration at the region where tendons and ligaments attach to bone" (2006:471). When muscles are used repeatedly, they increase in size and require a secure point of attachment. The resulting osteological marker can thus be broadly correlated to levels of physical activity (Havelkova et al. 2011, 2013; Lieverse et al. 2013; Palmer et al. 2016; Villotte et al. 2010; Villotte and Knusel 2014). This osteological process is associated with Wolff's Law, which states that bone will adapt in response to biomechanical loading, or lack thereof (Ruff et al. 2006). There are several additional contributing factors to entheseal changes, including age, genetics, and body size (Milella et al. 2012; Weiss 2003, 2004; Wilczak 1998). The type of entheseal attachment present at a particular skeletal locus (i.e., fibrocartilaginous versus fibrous) also affects the presence and development of skeletal markers (Henderson and Alves Cardoso 2013; Villotte et al. 2010; Villotte and Knusel 2013). Fibrocartilaginous entheses, possessing several histological zones, are well studied and thus have recently become more common in bioarchaeological analysis (Benjamin and Ralphs 2000; Henderson et al. 2012; Villotte and Knusel 2013).

Data for entheseal changes were recorded according to the method developed by Hawkey and Merbs (1995), which uses an ordinal scale to record the approximate size and severity of the entheseal change (Table 3). Recently, methods for entheseal analysis that limit interobserver error have been proposed (Henderson et al. 2016; Mariotti et al. 2004; Villotte 2006). These methods were not adopted for three reasons: (1) ranked data (as proposed by Hawkey and Merbs 1995) provide valuable information regarding both severity and frequency of entheseal change; (2) data for the New Kingdom sample were previously collected according to the Hawkey and Merbs system; and (3) all data were collected by the first author, thus eliminating concerns related to interobserver error. A total of 17 fibrocartilaginous entheses were examined and selected because they reflect major muscle/ligament attachments from both the upper and lower body (Table 4; Figs. 2-4); the left and right sides were analyzed independently. Nonparametric Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) was used to compare mean entheseal scores between the New Kingdom and the Third Intermediate/Napatan samples. ANCOVA examines the population mean of a dependent variable (entheses) across one or more independent variables (time period), while controlling for a covariate (age). Because age is frequently positively correlated with entheseal changes, it was a selected as the covariate. ANCOVA adjusts the mean of the dependent variable once the variation of the covariate has been accounted for (both mean and adjusted mean are reported in Tables 5 and 6). Others have found ANCOVA to be more effective than alternative nonparametric tests (Cheverko et al. 2016; Hubbe et al. 2012).

Traumatic injury, a more acute and potentially harmful occurrence than entheseal changes, includes bone fractures and myositis ossificans (muscle pulls). Hawkey and Merbs (1995) address ossification exostoses in their publication regarding activity reconstruction; however, because these distinct bone growths are believed to be the result of more acute trauma (e.g., avulsion) and have been addressed as such in previous bioarchaeological publication (Buzon and Richman 2007; Judd 2000; Kilgore et al. 1997), it is used here as an indicator of traumatic injury rather than repetitive use (Ortner 2003:158). The location of traumatic injuries on the body can indicate a likely causation factor. Trauma to long bones, such as Colles' fractures, Smith's fractures, and distal fibular injuries, are typically attributed to accidental falls and twisted ankles (Judd 2006; Redfern 2008; Rogers 1992; Tung 2003; Walker 1997), whereas depression fractures and sharp-force trauma to the skull, particularly above the "hat-brim" line, have frequently been attributed to intentional violence (Lovell 1997; Martin and Harrod 2014; Tiesler and Cucina 2012; Tung 2012; Walker 1989, 2001). Further, ethnographic evidence supports the argument that cranial injuries severe enough to remodel skeletal tissue are frequently indicative of intentional and interpersonal trauma (Harrod et al. 2012). There are exceptions to this rule; for example, boxers' fractures of the metacarpals, broken ribs, and parry fractures are all postcranial injuries that suggest a violent origin (Judd 2008; Kurin 2012). In line with this research, we consider infracranial injury (excluding boxers' fractures, broken ribs, and parry fractures) most likely attributable to accidental or occupational causes. Bone, type of injury, position, and state of healing were all recorded (see Buzon and Richman 2007; Judd 2000). Chi-square ([chi square]) was used to examine the relative frequency of trauma between groups.


The examination of activity and trauma at Tombos suggests that the lived experience of the New Kingdom population was very different from the Third Intermediate/Napatan population. Nearly all mean entheseal scores are higher in the Third Intermediate/Napatan sample than the New Kingdom sample (Tables 5 and 6).

Twenty-six entheses are significantly different (p [less than or equal to] 0.05) between the two samples. Mean enthesial scores for supraspinatus/infraspinatus and subscapularis, both of which are involved in shoulder movement, were significantly higher in the Third Intermediate/Napatan sample than New Kingdom sample (both left and right side). Scores for several muscles that contribute to elbow movement (left brachialis, left brachioradialis, right brachioradialis) were also significantly higher in the Third Intermediate/Napatan sample. All entheses involved in wrist/hand movement (common extensors, common flexors) were higher for both sides in the Third Intermediate/Napatan sample. Lastly nearly all entheses of the lower body, with the exception of left popliteus (p = 0.058), were significantly higher in the Third Intermediate/Napatan sample; collectively, these lower-body entheses are involved in hip extension, flexion, abduction and adduction, and knee flexion and lateral rotation. No entheses were statistically higher in the New Kingdom sample.

Osteological indicators of trauma were frequently higher in the Third Intermediate/Napatan sample than in the New Kingdom sample. Of the six skeletal elements that were examined for trauma (humerus, radius, ulna, femur, tibia, fibula), five were higher in the Third Intermediate/Napatan sample and one was higher in the New Kingdom sample (Table 7). The trauma data show that there are more instances of accidental/occupational injury in the Third Intermediate/Napatan Period than in the New Kingdom Period; however, none of these differences is statistically significant. When the entheseal changes and trauma data are combined, the Third Intermediate/Napatan sample indicates engagement in higher levels of physical activity without significantly increased rates of accidental injury.


This bioarchaeological examination of entheseal changes and trauma elucidates the obscure period after the collapse of the Egyptian Empire in Nubia. Results of this study suggest that the lived experience of the Tombos population was different between the imperial New Kingdom Period and the Third Intermediate/Napatan Period. As noted above, mean entheseal marker scores were regularly higher in the Third Intermediate/Napatan sample than the New Kingdom sample. This pattern is notable for all major joint groups, indicating that the Third Intermediate/Napatan peoples were engaging in more intense forms of repetitive and strenuous physical activity. However, there were no significant differences in accidental trauma between the two periods, suggesting that the activities that were being conducted on a daily basis, although different in intensity, were not contributing to traumatic injury. Here we explore possible explanations for these findings and discuss the implications of addressing everyday experiences through bioarchaeological methods in this postcolonial setting.

Previously, Schrader (2012) suggested that low rates of activity patterns (entheseal changes, osteoarthritis) in the New Kingdom Tombos sample might be due to the unique function the town served within the broader empire. There is significant archaeological evidence, including hieroglyphic inscriptions, elite tombs, and imported grave goods, to suggest that Tombos was an Egyptian imperial town in Nubia. The empire built several towns along the Middle Nile, including Soleb (85 km north of Tombos), Amara West (130 km north of Tombos), Sesibi (50 km north of Tombos), and Sai (110 km north of Tombos); this method of imperial consolidation established direct control over much of Upper Nubia and encouraged Egyptian/Nubian coexistence (Morkot 2001; Smith 2003). Perhaps the strongest evidence of Tombos's important role in the colonial system is hieroglyphic text from the pyramid of Siamun. In these inscriptions we find that the pyramid was built for Siamun and his mother, Weren. Siamun's official title was "Scribe-Reckoner of the Gold of Kush," indicating that he played an important role in assembling the annual tribute payment from Kush (Buzon et al. 2016). We have suggested that this New Kingdom imperial network may have benefited the occupants of colonial towns such as Tombos; in addition to the Egyptian administrators who occupied these spaces, others may have been employed as scribes, artisans, or prosperous servants (Schrader 2012). This explanation would account for the limited levels of entheseal changes and occupational injury found in the New Kingdom sample. Did collapse of this network adversely affect the population of Tombos during the Third Intermediate and Napatan Periods?

Much less archaeological and historical evidence exists for the Third Intermediate and Napatan Periods, making conclusions about lifeways tentative at this time. However, from available evidence we can advance a few hypotheses. Throughout the town of Tombos there is evidence of Third Intermediate/Napatan quarrying (there is no evidence of earlier, New Kingdom, quarrying). Due to the fact that Tombos is located at the rocky Third Cataract, numerous granite outcrops are scattered across the landscape (Edwards 2004). On the north side of Tombos, directly between a concentration of granite and the Nile, there still remains the fallen statue of an unnamed ruler (Fig. 5). It has been suggested that this figure, which would have stood approximately 2.5 m tall, is the 25th Dynasty pharaoh, Taharko (Dunham 1947). However, because the face of the sculpture is damaged and the final inscription, which would have included the cartouche of its namesake, was never completed, we may never know which pharaoh this statue was intended to honor. Nonetheless, the statue does appear to have been roughly cut in the quarries and was in the midst of being moved to the Nile for further transportation when it fell, broke, and was abandoned. In addition to the 25th Dynasty statue, several boulders throughout Tombos still exhibit quarrying impressions (Fig. 6); shims were aligned along the rock surface and hammered to create a clean and controlled break. Lastly, Harrell (1999) has concluded that several monumental statues (approximately 4 m tall) from Gebel Barkal (2) may have originated from Tombos.

Quarrying would have involved physical actions including chiseling, hammering, and moving large blocks of granite, which could have contributed to pronounced entheseal changes. The shoulder, elbow, and wrist muscle groupings would have been used to break away and roughly carve stone, while the larger leg muscles would have been used when transporting large pieces of granite from the quarry to the Nile (ca. 1 km). However, if quarrying is partially responsible for increased entheseal change in the Third Intermediate/Napatan sample, why do the accidental injury data not parallel the entheseal data? Although mining and quarrying are dangerous occupations (Bull et al. 2000), many clinical and bioarchaeological studies suggest that the most common injuries associated with these occupations would not apply to quarrying at Tombos. For example, Van der Merwe et al. (2010) examined trauma and medical care in a well-documented collection of nineteenth-century skeletons of individuals employed as miners from Kimberly, South Africa. While mining accidents were common, many could be attributed to "falling down mine shafts, getting killed in rock falls, drowning in mud rushes and being run over with wagons, carts or trams" (Van der Merwe et al. 2010:303; see also Knight 1978; Turrell 1987). Given that all quarrying at Tombos would have been above ground and the local granite is not vertically oriented (i.e., it typically appears in boulderous patches on the landscape; see background of Fig. 5), the risk factors that were responsible for injuries at Kimberly mines were much different from those at Third Intermediate/Napatan Tombos. Mining has also been linked with increased accidental injuries in ancient Peru; however, many of these traumas are associated with falls owing to the steep topography of the Andes. Kurin (2012) uses fibular fractures as a proxy for broken ankles, likely associated with falls on the steep and rocky landscape. She found that fibular fractures were relatively consistent from the Middle Horizon Turpo sample (4.5%) to the Late Intermediate Period Cachi sample (7.8%), suggesting continued use of, and subsequent accidental injury from, local salt mine resources. While steep topography is a concern in other areas of Nubia, it is not a contributing factor to accidental injury at Tombos. Kilgore et al. (1997) examined injury in a particularly rocky cataract region of Nubia, referred to as the Batn al'Hajar, or Belly of the Rock (Second Cataract). Notably high levels of postcranial injury, coupled with a general lack of interpersonal violence, suggests the terrain that these individuals experienced may have increased their likelihood of accidental injury. Given that the landscape at Tombos is relatively flat, unlike other markedly rocky cataract regions, we would not expect to find as many accidental fractures associated with vertical falls. Thus, it is possible that the people of Third Intermediate/Napatan Tombos were engaging in relatively low-risk quarrying, explaining the low levels of accidental injury; however, other factors might have contributed to the disparity between entheseal and injury data.

In addition to quarrying efforts, the ancient population of Third Intermediate/Napatan Tombos may have been involved in food production and construction. Without the redistributive economy of the Egyptian Empire, Nubians would likely have been actively involved in agriculture and animal husbandry (Welsby 1998). These activities would have required more physically demanding entheseal use than the comparative occupations of scribe, servant, and artisan that are proposed for the New Kingdom sample. In addition to contributing to entheseal change, food-production activities might also explain the elevated levels of accidental injury. Judd and Roberts (1999) examined rates of accidental fractures in a medieval British farming village compared to several urban sites and found that the rural sample had significantly higher frequencies of trauma (19.4%) than the urban samples (4.7-5.5%). Drawing from the clinical literature, Judd and Roberts (1999:229) suggest that injuries in the rural sample may have been due to falls, animal assaults, and falls from moving vehicles. Similarly, Judd (2002) examined traumatic injuries among rural and urban Nubians and found a greater prevalence of accidental recidivistic injuries in the rural population. She suggests that the high number of rural injuries resulted from the "hazardous nature of the ancient rural environment and its increased potential for accident" (Judd 2002:99). While many clinical studies note falls to be a vulnerability associated with farming (Jones 1990; Solomon 2002; Steinhorst et al. 2006), several studies suggest that close contact with animals is a particular danger (Brison and Picket 1991, 1992; Busch et al. 1986; Casey 1997; Norwood 2000). Purshwitz and Field (1990:179) note that "injuries involving agricultural machinery, animals, and trucks are the leading types of non-fatal injuries" in agricultural work. It is possible that the Third Intermediate/Napatan population at Tombos was actively engaged in agricultural practices and had limited exposure to animals. The physical labor involved in agricultural food production would explain the elevated levels of entheseal changes and accidental trauma; however, if the population was not practicing animal rearing there may have been fewer injuries, thus explaining the lack of statistical difference between the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate/Napatan samples. At this time it is difficult to say if and to what extent the Third Intermediate/Napatan population was engaging in agricultural food production and/or animal husbandry; however, it is possible that involvement in these activities influenced the frequency and severity of entheseal changes and accidental injury.

The local Tombos population would have also been responsible for any construction efforts, including those at the cemetery. Due to the inaccessibility of the settlement, we cannot speak to the types of domestic structures they built; however, we have strong evidence of large and numerous cemetery structures during this time. Two pyramid structures and 27 tumuli dating to the Third Intermediate/Napatan Period have been excavated. While pyramid and chamber tombs were used during the New Kingdom Period, they were reused over hundreds of years, contain several dozen individuals, and possibly reflect family interments (Buzon et al. 2016). In contrast, the Third Intermediate/Napatan tumuli, which are approximately 2 m wide and 2 m deep, contained one or two individuals. Thus, while the labor input for the tumuli was not as substantial as that for pyramid construction, tumulus construction would have needed to take place much more frequently. Beyond quarrying and food production, construction efforts might also explain the observed increased entheseal changes.

In addition to these possible explanations for increased entheseal change and comparable accidental traumas, recent bioarchaeological research indicates that the Napatan population at Tombos may have also been biologically resilient. Buzon and colleagues have compared osteological indicators of nutritional deficiency and infectious disease between the New Kingdom and Napatan samples at Tombos. They found that there were increased levels of remodeled cribra orbitalia (Buzon 2014) as well as greater average bone size in the Napatan sample (Buzon 2014; Gibbon and Buzon 2016), both of which suggest that this population may have been more biologically adept at recovering and surviving during periods of nutritional stress and infectious conditions. This biological resilience may also extend into the interpretations of the accidental trauma data, as clinical research has shown that increased physical activity throughout an individual's life enhances bone strength and increases resistance to age-associated fractures (Agarwal 1980; Jonsson et al. 1992; Judd 2002). It is possible that the intensified physical activity associated with quarrying, agropastoralism, and construction may have reinforced skeletal tissues, limiting the number of accidental traumas in the Napatan sample.

These findings suggest that the everyday lived experience of the inhabitants of Third Intermediate/Napatan Tombos was much different from that of their New Kingdom predecessors. This postcolonial quotidian environment would have likely involved more intensive forms of labor (e.g., quarrying, agropastoralism, construction). Some have found that imperial collapse induces a decline in physical activity due to the nullification of tribute demands and state-regulated labor commitments (Morris 2006); however, considering the specialized function of Tombos during the New Kingdom Period, we suggest there were limited labor demands in this particular imperial setting. The New Kingdom Tombos sample may have depended on imperial network connections for trade, food production, and construction. However, within contexts of collapse where there is an absence of an overarching governing structure, populations can lose previous support services, leading to local self-sufficiency (e.g., Third Intermediate/Napatan Tombos had to turn to agropastoralism/quarrying/construction; Tainter 1988).

Thus far, our interpretations might be considered "top-down" in that we are assuming that the local population reacted to the fall of the Egyptian Empire. However, these data can also be viewed through a "bottom-up," agent-centered approach. Even in the most extreme scenarios of sociopolitical inequality, such as colonization, individuals maintain some degree of agency in daily action and labor (Silliman 2001a, 2001b). We argue that the people of Tombos during the Third Intermediate/Napatan Periods also enacted agency in their everyday lives. We can interpret the increase in physical activity as a choice, embodied with social, political, and economic meaning, on the part of the local population. Quarrying at Tombos can be viewed as the Nubian utilization of a previously unexploited natural resource that, through manual labor, could be converted to salable commodities (e.g., statues). Rather than assuming that the people of Tombos turned to quarrying in the absence of Egyptian power, we can view this mundane practice as a maneuver that reestablished the postcolonial Napatan state as a prominent economic player in interregional trade networks. Similarly, food production and construction efforts can be viewed as ways in which this community could thrive after empire. In line with recent theoretical approaches to collapse, we view the cessation of Egyptian rule not as a fatal end to life at Tombos but as an opportunity for the local population to regenerate and adapt, independent of an imperial power. If we acknowledge entheseal changes and accidental injury as the result of repeated practices and approach these embodied processes from a bottom-up vantage, we can consider these findings to be evidence of a durable and independent polity whose inhabitants are engaging in forms of production and economic growth in a time of sociopolitical change.


The data we have presented indicate that the lifeways of local Nubians changed after the deterioration and collapse of the Egyptian New Kingdom. At Tombos, entheseal changes and traumatic injury data suggest that individuals from the Third Intermediate/Napatan Period sample regularly engaged in physical activities that resulted in more robust musculoskeletal attachment sites and similar levels of occupational/accidental injury. Rather than assume that this postcolonial population reverted to some degree of marginality, we assert that the Third Intermediate/Napatan population at Tombos was agentive, adaptive, and pioneering. Inhabitants of Tombos may have begun to quarry previously untapped granite resources, providing a desirable product to both Egypt and Nubia. Furthermore, they may have been self-sufficient with regard to daily and intensive practices including food production and construction. Populations of the Third Intermediate and Napatan Periods, such as those at Tombos, served as the foundation for the Kushite state, which went on to conquer Egypt and rule Nubia for centuries.


We would like to thank our colleague and friend Dr. Stuart Tyson Smith for his collaboration. We would also like to thank the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums and the people of Tombos for facilitating our research. Funding sources for this research include the National Science Foundation (BCS-1128950; BCS-0917815), the National Geographic Society, Purdue University's Global Research Synergy Grant, and Purdue University. We greatly appreciate the helpful comments of Brenda Baker (the journal's co-editor in chief), the associate editor, and anonymous reviewers. Mohamed Faroug Ali provided the Arabic translation.

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Sarah A. Schrader (a*) and Michele R. Buzon (b)

(a) University of Notre Dame, Department of Anthropology, Notre Dame, IN, USA

(b) Purdue University, Department of Anthropology, West Lafayette, IN, USA

(*) Correspondence to: Sarah A. Schrader, University of Notre Dame, Department of Anthropology, 611 Flanner Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556-5611


Received 17 June 2016

Revision 30 August 2016

Accepted 20 October 2016

(1.) Cranial metric (Buzon 2006; Buzon et al. 2016) and dental non-metric (Schrader et al. 2014) evidence suggests that Egyptians and Nubians were becoming more heterogeneous through time.

(2.) These are now housed at the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, Khartoum, Sudan.

DOI: 10.5744/bi.2017.1000
Table 1. Chronology of Nubia (Smith 2013)

Date B.C.   Period

1550-1050   New Kingdom
1050-728    Third Intermediate
728-657     Napatan

Table 2. Sex and Age Distribution

                    New Kingdom   Third            Total
                    Period        Intermediate/
                                  Napatan Period
               Female   Male      Female   Male

Young adult    12        6        10        8       36
Middle adult   19       17        11        8       55
Old adult      15        9         7        5       36
Unknown         9       10         1        0       20
Total          55       42        29       21      147

Table 3. Entheseal Changes Scoring Method (Hawkey and Merbs 1995)

Score   Description

0       Absence of marginal bone growth or pitting; surface is smooth
1       Slightly rounded cortex, elevation apparent to the touch; no
        distinct crests or ridges around margin
2       Uneven cortical surface; mound-shaped elevation; no sharp
        ridges or crests
3       Distinct sharp crest/ridge formation creating a deep
        indentation with a clearly defined margin of bone
4       A shallow furrow is present, creating a pitting into the
        cortex (< 1 mm deep)
5       A moderate furrow is present (1-3 mm deep, no longer than
6       Marking pitting present (> 3mm deep, > 5mm long)

Table 4. Entheses Examined and Biomechanical Function (Standring 2015)

Joint      Muscles/Ligament       Attachment

Shoulder   M. supraspinatus/      Greater tubercle of humerus
           M. infraspinatus
           M. subscapularis       Lesser tubercle of humerus
           M. teres minor         Greater tubercle of humerus
Elbow      M. triceps brachii     Olecranon process of ulna
           M. brachialis          Coronoid process of ulna
           M. biceps brachii      Radial tuberosity
           M. brachioradialis     Radial styloid process
Wrist      Common extensors       Lateral epicondyle of humerus
           Common flexors         Medial epicondyle of humerus

Hip        M. semimembranosus/    Ischial tuberosity of os coxae
           M. semitendinosus/
           M. biceps femoris
           M. gluteus medius      Greater trochanter of femur (anterior
           M. gluteus minimus     Greater trochanter of femur (lateral
           M. iliopsoas           Lesser trochanter of femur
           M. quadratus femoris   Intertrochanteric crest of femur
Knee       M. gastrocnemius       Femoral condyles
           Patellar ligament      Tibial tuberosity
           M. popliteus           Medial surface of proximal tibia

Joint      Biomechanical Function

Shoulder   Arm abduction and rotation

           Arm rotation
           Arm rotation; adduction; extension
Elbow      Forearm extension
           Elbow flexion
           Elbow flexion and forearm supination
           Elbow flexion
Wrist      Wrist and finger abduction; adduction; extension
           Forearm pronation; wrist flexion and abduction;
           finger flexion
Hip        Hip extension; knee flexion and lateral rotation

           Hip abduction and medial rotation

           Hip abduction and medial rotation

           Hip flexion
           Lateral rotation and adduction of thigh
Knee       Foot and knee flexion
           Leg flexion and extension
           Knee rotation and flexion

Table 5. Entheseal Changes Mean Scores (Left)

                                      New Kingdom Period
Joint      Muscles/Ligament       Mean   Adjusted Mean  n

Shoulder   M. supraspinatus/      0.70   0.53           27
           M. infraspinatus
           M. subscapularis       0.64   0.46           25
           M. teres minor         0.77   0.68           27
Wrist      Common extensors       1.58   1.37           31
           Common flexors         0.94   0.70           33
Elbow      M. triceps brachii     1.36   1.24           22
           M. brachialis          1.27   1.18           22
           M. biceps brachii      2.18   2.01           22
           M. brachioradialis     1.26   1.13           19
Hip        M. semimembranosus/    1.75   1.66           48
           M. semitendinosus/
           M. biceps femoris
           M. gluteus medius      1.48   1.32           23
           M. gluteus minimus     1.43   1.23           23
           M. iliopsoas           1.32   1.15           22
           M. quadratus femoris   1.00   0.87           25
Knee       M. gastrocnemius       1.32   1.20           22
           Patellar ligament      1.18   1.00           17
           M. popliteus           0.50   0.48           14

           Third Intermediate/Napatan Period
Joint      Mean   Adjusted Mean   n               (p)

Shoulder   1.95   2.20            19             0.000 (*)
           1.89   2.14            18             0.000
           1.26   1.41            19             0.119
Wrist      2.73   3.02            22             0.000
           1.39   1.73            23             0.026
Elbow      1.38   1.49            24             0.498
           1.83   1.92            23             0.036
           2.13   2.29            23             0.523
           1.95   2.08            20             0.004
Hip        2.94   3.07            35             0.000 (*)
           2.41   2.58            22             0.002
           2.23   2.44            22             0.005
           2.04   2.19            24             0.003
           1.96   2.10            24             0.000
Knee       2.13   2.24            23             0.009
           2.39   2.55            18             0.000
           1.12   1.14            17             0.058

(*) Values in bold indicate significantly higher (p
[less than or equal to] 0.05) entheseal mean scores in the Third
Intermediate/Napatan sample.

Table 6. Entheseal Changes Mean Scores (Right)

                                         New Kingdom Period
Joint      Muscles/Ligament       Mean   Adjusted Mean   n

Shoulder   M. supraspinatus/      0.75   0.51            20
           M. infraspinatus
           M. subscapularis       1.47   1.16            19
           M. teres minor         1.47   1.24            17
Wrist      Common extensors       2.15   1.80            27
           Common flexors         0.96   0.69            26
Elbow      M. triceps brachii     1.46   1.38            26
           M. brachialis          1.26   1.19            27
           M. biceps brachii      1.91   1.84            22
           M. brachioradialis     1.13   0.99            16
Hip        M. semimembranosus/    2.60   2.47            35
           M. semitendinosus/
           M. biceps femoris
           M. gluteus medius      1.17   1.06            24
           M. gluteus minimus     1.13   1.04            23
           M. iliopsoas           1.00   0.76            26
           M. quadratus femoris   0.93   0.73            28
Knee       M. gastrocnemius       0.90   0.73            20
           Patellar ligament      1.17   0.95            23
           M. popliteus           0.30   0.29            20

           Third Intermediate/Napatan Period
Joint      Mean   Adjusted Mean   n              (p)

Shoulder   2.35   2.56            23            0.000 (*)
           2.17   2.41            24            0.006
           1.43   1.60            23            0.48
Wrist      2.79   3.19            24            0.003
           1.67   1.99            24            0.001
Elbow      1.52   1.62            21            0.488
           1.76   1.86            21            0.051
           2.10   2.17            20            0.481
           2.24   2.34            21            0.000
Hip        3.37   3.51            35            0.001
           2.75   2.87            20            0.000
           1.90   2.01            20            0.019
           1.91   2.19            23            0.001
           1.96   2.19            24            0.000
Knee       2.10   2.25            22            0.000
           2.10   2.34            21            0.000
           1.29   1.29            21            0.003

(*) Values in bold indicate significantly higher (p
[less than or equal to] 0.05) entheseal mean scores in the Third
Intermediate/Napatan sample.

Table 7. Traumatic Injury Frequencies

          New Kingdom Period       Third Intermediate/
                                   Napatan Period
          Injury Present   n/N     Injury Present   n/N

Humerus   1.6%             1/64    2.0%             1/49
Radius    3.2%             2/63    4.2%             2/48
Ulna      0.0%             0/61    4.2%             2/48
Femur     0.0%             0/67    2.0%             1/50
Tibia     1.8%             1/57    4.3%             2/46
Fibula    1.9%             1/54    2.1%             1/48

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Author:Schrader, Sarah A.; Buzon, Michele R.
Publication:Bioarchaeology International
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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