August 12, 2019

Video features archaeologist’s field work in the Nile River Valley

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — When it comes to archaeology, people often think of Egypt and its grand pyramids, royalty and dynasties. So what else is there to learn about ancient civilizations?

Michele Buzon, professor in Purdue’s Department of Anthropology, started working at the archaeological site Tombos in modern-day Sudan while she was still a graduate student. She and a collaborator, Stuart Tyson Smith from the University of California, Santa Barbara, have been excavating the Nubian site since 2000. When they began excavating, they presumed they were digging up an Egyptian civilization inhabited by administrators of the Egyptian government who expanded in to Nubia.

The story of Buzon and her team’s excavation of Tombos is featured in a nearly nine-minute video as part of Purdue’s “Boiler Bytes series. The episode is titled “Archaeology” and includes the findings from the colony established between 1450-1075 B.C.

What Buzon and the team discovered was not what they expected. Different types of tombs, Egyptian and Nubian, were found within the cemetery along with different forms of burial practices within the same tombs. Most of the Egyptians were buried in coffins in an extended body position on their backs. The Nubians buried the dead on their sides in a flex position and often on beds. By discovering these integrated burial practices, Buzon found that these distinct cultures lived together and likely married.

Over 200 individuals have been discovered at Tombos and have helped the researchers solidify their hypothesis that two different groups of people lived in this colony. They were able to look at morphological differences in the bones and the strontium isotope values in the teeth to determine many individuals grew up in another location before colonizing Tombos. Their in-depth look at the skeletons also helped them determine that some people at Tombos probably lived into their 80s.

Buzon will continue to dig up the past at Tombos in the winter of 2020. Her research has received funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society. 

Writer: Madison Sanneman, msannema@purdue.edu 

Media Contact: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

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