Day-to-Day Life in Ancient Nubia

  • Sarah Schrader
Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)


In this chapter, I synthesize the practice theory and methodological approaches discussed in Chapters  1 4 by presenting a case study from Ancient Nubia. These data are the product of my dissertation as well as several additional years of excavation and research. I have been working in Nubia, modern northern Sudan, for more than 10 years and have direct experience excavating and analyzing the data presented here. In addition to the excellent degree of preservation due to the extremely arid environment, Nubia has had several instances of major sociopolitical change, which likely impacted day-to-day life. For example, the Egyptian Empire colonized Nubia twice, Nubia conquered Egypt once, and there were also several interactions with populations to the south. In short, there is plenty of fodder for a bioarchaeologist interested in daily life.

The town of Tombos, near the Third Cataract of the Nile River, was an imperial town built during the second instance of Egyptian colonization of Nubia (New Kingdom, 1450–1070 BCE). Previous archaeological and bioarchaeological research, summarized in this chapter, suggests that Tombos was an administrative town where Egyptians and Nubians lived peacefully side-by-side. After the decline of Egyptian New Kingdom power, the community at Tombos did not dissolve; in fact, recent excavations have shown Tombos continued to thrive into the postcolonial Third Intermediate and Napatan Periods (1070–660 BCE). Here I apply entheseal changes, osteoarthritis, and stable isotope analysis to New Kingdom and Third Intermediate/Napatan Period Tombos samples in order to gain insight into their everyday lives. I further couch these data within Bourdieu’s habitus, to better understand the broader social context and meaning of day-to-day life.

Entheseal changes and osteoarthritis data suggest that the people of the Third Intermediate/Napatan Period were performing more strenuous and more frequent activities than the New Kingdom. The stable isotope data suggest no significant differences between the carbon or nitrogen values of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate/Napatan Period samples. I argue that the everyday lives of these two groups would have differed greatly. The Nubian-Egyptians of New Kingdom Tombos would have had occupations such as scribe, prosperous servant, artisan, or musician and existed within a peaceful, multicultural, setting where they could express a Nubian, Egyptian, or hybrid identity. Carbon and nitrogen data from the New Kingdom indicates a mixed C3/C4 diet and appears to be a mix of Nubian and Egyptian foods. This is congruent with the Nubian–Egyptian social identity expressed in funerary practices at Tombos during this time.

The population of Tombos during the Third Intermediate/Napatan period may have been practicing agropastoralism, construction efforts, as well as quarrying. Data suggest women of the Third Intermediate/Napatan period were participating in physical activities that were much more frequent and strenuous than the females of the New Kingdom period. Rather than assuming that this increase in physical activity is negative, when framed in the light of an independent, postcolonial community, these activities can be viewed as an indication of autonomy and agency. The carbon and nitrogen values were markedly similar between the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate/Napatan period. I suggest this may have been a product of deeply entrenched cultural heterogeneity; after 500 years of colonization, the Nubians and Egyptians at Tombos had become so thoroughly ethnically and biologically entwined that their foodways had blended.


Colonization Postcolonialism Habitus Activity Diet Everyday Entheseal changes Osteoarthritis Carbon Nitrogen Stable isotope analysis Tombos 


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Schrader
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of ArchaeologyLeiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands

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