Purdue University Graduate School
Whitmore Dissertation 2019.pdf (3.44 MB)

A Life Course Approach to Health in the Ancient Nile Valley

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posted on 2019-11-20, 16:39 authored by Katie Marie WhitmoreKatie Marie Whitmore

This dissertation employs a multiscalar, life course approach to examine health in the ancient Nile Valley (c. 2000- 660 BCE) by analyzing population- and individual-level data of skeletal indicators of stress, health, and pathological conditions. Specifically, this dissertation explores a more detailed reconstruction of health under a life course approach through the inclusion of individuals of all ages, a contextualization of social and biological age categories, the examination of multiple non-specific indicators of general health/stress, and the timing and development of specific conditions. Results of the population-level data are expanded and highlighted through the examination of individual experiences of health, specifically those related to growing old, impairment, and disability. Population-level data examining cribra orbitalia and LEH demonstrated a significant difference between individuals that survived periods of childhood stress (adults) and non-survivors (juveniles) when examining cribra orbitalia. More specifically, there are relatively high frequencies of cribra orbitalia in individuals in the late juvenile social age category (7 – 14 years) and the transition adult social age category (14 - 20 years). A broad examination of old age at Tombos reveals that many individuals were living into their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Individuals at Tombos do not have many indicators of osteoarthritis or entheseal changes, indicating that the inhabitants of Tombos were not subjected to strenuous physical activities throughout their life. Individuals throughout the Tombos cemetery display oral health issues; it is common for members of this community to have significant dental wear, carious lesions, abscesses, and antemortem tooth loss. A case study of an older Tombos adult (U34.B1) investigates the intersection of old age, impairment, and disability through the consideration of the physical changes related to degenerative joint disease and oral health and the impact to U34.B1’s mobility, pain level, and daily life. Acute care related to a severe, non-union femoral neck fracture at the end of life is also considered for U34.B1. Finally, impairment and disability are considered in another individual (U35.Sh2.B10) with Léri-Weill dyschondrosteosis by utilizing the bioarchaeology of care approach. Overall, this dissertation demonstrates that population-level and individual-level analysis can incorporate various types of contextual data gathered using a culturally specific lens to create a rich narrative of health in the past.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Anthropology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Michele R. Buzon

Additional Committee Member 2

Sherylyn Briller

Additional Committee Member 3

H. Kory Cooper

Additional Committee Member 4

Stuart Tyson Smith

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