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Aging Bodies along the Nile: Investigating Osteoporosis in Ancient Nubia
This dissertation investigates the patterns of osteoporosis and age-related bone loss in the Ancient Nile Valley through the analysis of skeletal remains from the Ancient Nubian sites of Tombos and Kerma, located near the Third Nile Cataract. Specifically, this research explores the biocultural factors that contribute to the loss of bone quality and quantity throughout different stages of the life course, such as childhood growth and development, health and nutrition, reproduction, and activity patterns. I utilized a multimethod approach incorporating non-invasive 3D and 2D imaging technology in combination with traditional bioarchaeological methods. MicroCT scans of lumbar vertebrae were used to view differences in trabecular bone microarchitecture measures (bone quality) as well as radiographs of the second metacarpal to measure cortical bone quantity via the cortical index. Additionally, osteological analyses of all individuals were performed to observe pathological conditions such as cribra orbitalia, enamel hypoplasia, and skeletal trauma. Measurements of vertebral neural canal size and maximum femoral length were collected to better understand how physiological health and nutritional status corresponded to bone health in the study samples. The two sites were analyzed for signs of age-related bone loss within the whole study sample as well as within the male and female sub-samples; males and females were also compared within the overall sample as well as within separate age-categories to view sex-related differences in trabecular and cortical bone health. Differences in bone quality and quantity between groups with presence and absence of physiological stress markers or trauma as well as differing degrees of physical activity markers were assessed, as well as correlations between indicators of developmental stress and bone health measures. To better understand the impact of the cultural and historical environment on bone health, patterns of bone loss within different archaeological groups were explored. My findings illustrate that age-related bone loss was present in these populations, particularly within females, and that the decline in trabecular bone quality began as early in the life course as the late 20s/early 30s. This research highlights the complex nature of bone health and maintenance and shows that there are age- and sex-related changes in bone quality and quantity but also patterns of bone loss that reflect biocultural differences in the lived experiences of these individuals.