A Study of Social Stratification and Physical Health in an Ancient Egyptian Population of Saqqara

    Student thesis: Phd


    The present research was based on a biocultural analysis of the funerary customs and human remains from the late Old Kingdom (5th-6th Dynasties; 2494-2181 BC) and Ptolemaic Period (332-30 BC) cemeteries at Saqqara-West, Egypt. The study was built on a detailed analysis of archaeological attributes of burials and skeletal indicators of health to address the general research question: "What are the socioeconomic, cultural and historical determinants of health in ancient Egypt?" The specific hypotheses tested in the project were that: (H1) the material cultural attributes of a burial can be used as a reliable indicator of the social status of the individual, (H2) greater wealth in death is associated with better health during life, and that (H3) at the level of the population, the environmental conditions in the settlement area affected the frequency of ill health in the communities represented in the cemetery. A total of 32 Old Kingdom (OK) and 89 Ptolemaic (PP) burials were subject to in-depth contextual and osteological analyses to determine the pattern of association of the archaeological attributes of burial with the individual's social status and physical health. The former was determined with the application of a specifically designed Funerary Wealth Index intended to measure the wealth of the individual burials, believed to be reflective of the person's social status in life. The human remains were subject to in-depth osteological analysis to ascertain individual characteristics, including demographic attributes (sex, age at death, population affinities) and indicators of lifestyle (dental and skeletal health status, dietary practices and activity patterns). The data matrix that incorporated archaeological and anthropological attributes of the individual inhumations was statistically analysed in order to determine if any of the findings or correlations between variables in both population samples, such as the patterns of association between the funerary wealth and demographic attributes of the burials, as well as the individuals' state of health, were statistically significant. The funerary wealth distribution in the OK burial assemblage demonstrated greater diversification in comparison to the PP assemblage, and the overall funerary wealth in the OK group was statistically significantly greater than in the PP assemblage. In the OK burials, the condition of interment and personal adornment and funerary goods variables of funerary wealth demonstrated a significant positive association, although the level of the correlation of the two variables was low, most likely due to the limited assemblage of funerary goods recovered from these predominantly plundered burials. In the PP burials, the personal adornment and funerary goods variable demonstrated a significant association with the post-mortem funerary treatment; however, the level of association was low, most likely due to the poor diversification and low quantity of the funerary goods recovered from these lower status burials. No significant difference (p>0.05) was found in the distribution of funerary wealth between males and females in both burial assemblages. No significant difference (p>0.05) in the overall funerary wealth was also determined between the sub-adults and adults in both skeletal series. Individually, however, significant differences were determined in the post-mortem body treatment variable in the OK and the condition of interment in the PP sub-adult and adult skeletons. Only one burial in the OK assemblage was different from the remaining inhumations, but the individual's physical disability caused by short-limbed dwarfism was unlikely the reason for differential burial treatment of the deceased. In the OK burials, only one archaeological find was likely associated with the deceased's impaired health during life.Both skeletal series were severely under-represented by infants and children and by Old Adults in the PP assemblage. Both population samples wer
    Date of Award1 Aug 2014
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorRosalie David (Supervisor) & Andrew Chamberlain (Supervisor)


    • Physical health
    • Social stratification
    • Ptolemaic Period
    • Saqqara
    • Ancient Egypt
    • Old Kingom

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