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Equids and an Acrobat: Closure Rituals at Tell Brak

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Deposits of human and animal bodies in a monumental Akkadian building at Tell Brak (ancient Nagar) superficially suggest random killing and disposal. But here the authors produce evidence that these represent the deliberate sacrifice of valued creatures. Among the human remains were those argued to represent a specialist acrobat, while the donkey remains reflect the association of the building with the breeding of the much-debated onager-donkey hybrid that preceded the horse.
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Equids and an acrobat: closure rituals
at Tell Brak
Joan Oates
1
, Theya Molleson
2
& Arkadiusz Sołtysiak
3
Deposits of human and animal bodies in a monumental Akkadian building at Tell Brak (ancient
Nagar) superficially suggest random killing and disposal. But here the authors produce evidence
that these represent the deliberate sacrifice of valued creatures. Among the human remains were
those argued to represent a specialist acrobat, while the donkey remains reflect the association
of the building with the breeding of the much-debated onager-donkey hybrid that preceded the
horse.
Keywords: Akkadian, Mesopotamia, Tell Brak, acrobat, k
´
unga equid (hybrid), donkey,
onager, horse, closure rituals
In the third millennium BC the city of Nagar (modern Tell Brak) dominated the Khabur
plains of north-eastern Syria, lying today between south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq.
Much information about this ancient city has been revealed in recent excavations (Oates
et al. 2001) and in the cuneiform texts found at Ebla in north-western Syria, in which Nagar
is revealed as an urban centre comparable in status with ancient Kish and Mari, and a major
focus of contact between Nineveh and the Tigris valley to the east and Greater Syria to the
west. These texts also tell us that a Crown Prince of Nagar married a princess of Ebla with
considerable ceremony in both cities. We even know, at least in part, the contents of her
dowry, the first such records to survive anywhere (Biga 1998).
The texts also record that Ebla paid extravagant sums to Nagar for a special type of equid,
the so-called k
´
unga (BAR.AN), the preferred animals for the pulling of wheeled vehicles,
especially the 4-wheeled ‘battle wagon often illustrated on seals of the third millennium
(Figure 1) and on the well-known ‘standard’ from Ur. In the third millennium this was the
animal deemed fit to draw the chariots of gods and kings’. The k
´
unga equid is generally
accepted as an onager-donkey cross, a type of mule’, which preceded the appearance of
the horse in Mesopotamia and was both stronger and faster than the only other available
transport equid, the donkey. Brak-Nagar seems to have been a major centre for the breeding
of these much desired animals, an activity associated with the Area FS building (Figure 2),
situated conveniently near the north gate of the city (Archi 1998; Oates et al. 2001: 41-53,
285-93; Oates 2003; Oates & Oates 2006).
1
The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge University, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2
3ER, UK (Email: jlo29@cam.ac.uk)
2
Department of Palaeontology, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK
3
Department of Historical Anthropology, Warsaw University, Poland
Received: 20 February 2007; Accepted: 23 April 2007; Revised: 29 November 2007
antiquity 82 (2008): 390–400
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Joan Oates, Theya Molleson & Arkadiusz Sołtysiak
Figure 1. Four-wheeled battle-wagon, drawn by a team of
k
´
unga equids, design on a third-millennium seal; seal ht
3.4cm (drawing by H. McDonald).
The subject of this paper is a human
skeleton which we propose to identify as
another export’ from Nagar, also attested
in the texts as being in great demand at
Ebla. These individuals were known as h
´
ub
or h
´
ub.ki, a semitic word of uncertain
meaning but one that carries the sense of
always jumping about’. Our evidence is a
partial human skeleton from Area FS Level
5, room 20 (Figure 3).
1
A new assessment
of skeleton FS 1374C is presented together
with a possible interpretation of the
morphological features displayed.
The context of discovery
Human and animal bodies together with scattered bones were found in a monumental
building situated at the northernmost limits of the tell, near the north gate of the city
(Figure 2). The building itself consisted not only of the major reception and office
area in which the human bodies were found (Figure 3) but also a temple dedicated to
ˇ
Sakkan/Samagan, god of animals of the steppe, together with large courtyards, in the floors
of which were herbivore dung and traces of stake holes (Matthews et al. 2001: Figure 366).
There was also a very large cistern for the watering of the animals that were obviously kept
within these large courtyards (room 3). Sometime not long after 2300 BC, the complex had
been temporarily abandoned and then carefully emptied and deliberately infilled, the tip
lines still visible. The top of the fill had been neatly levelled and valuable offerings’ placed
there, including donkeys (ES on the plan), bronze objects and braziers placed above the
temple itself (Clutton-Brock 2001; Oates et al. 2001: Figure 5). Other offerings lay on the
floors and within the fill. Among these were a large number of metal objects including some
very fine silver jewellery, a saluki with its water bowl, and further donkeys, within one of
which the shapes of the internal organs were remarkably preserved, further proof of the rapid
infilling of the building (Oates et al. 2001: Figures 47, 51, 57, 338). That this building was
associated in some way with the breeding or trading of the hybrid k
´
unga equids is attested by
cuneiform documents recording the receipt or dispatch of these animals, found in courtyard
43 near the door of the temple antecella (Eidem et al. 2001: 118-9).
The context of the skeleton itself is unusual, indeed strange. It was one of three carefully
deposited but partially dismembered skeletons found on levelled-off, bricky debris in what
had been the reception suite (room 20) of an official of some status, apparently responsible
for the Area FS building. The skeletons were unburied in the sense that there were no visible
grave cuts though, like the donkeys, they must have been quickly covered since the body
outlines were still clear in the soil.
1 A note on the upper part of this skeleton was published by Theya Molleson in Oates et al. 2001: 351 (skeleton
1374C). When further human bones from locus FS 1374 were examined by Arek Sołtysiak at Brak in 2005, he
noted some remarkable morphological features on leg and foot bones, which proved to belong to this same skeleton.
391
Equids and an acrobat
Figure 2. Plan of the Level 5 Area FS building at Tell Brak, which includes a temple (rooms 41, 42) and large courtyards
associated with the breeding of, and trade in, hybrid equids, believed to be a donkey-onager cross.
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Joan Oates, Theya Molleson & Arkadiusz Sołtysiak
Figure 3. Fragmentary human skeletons in ritual deposit FS 1374, uppermost fill in reception room 20 of the Area FS Level
5 building. The skeleton FS 1374C discussed here is the most complete of the three specimens. The deposit dates from sometime
around 2250 BC.
The body of an acrobat?
Skeleton FS 1374C comprises the post-cranial fragments of a mature adult, including
ribs, vertebrae, arm, leg and foot bones. Many of the surviving bones are morphologically
distinctive. Some visible changes are probably the consequence of injury but a second group
is best understood as response to intense activity. The dimensions of limb bones are given
in Table 1. A confident sex determination is not possible. Comparison with dimensions of
other skeletal material from the same locus considered to be male – and even with FS 1449,
possibly a female reveals this individual to have been much smaller and more gracile. If
male, the stature would have been about 1.576m (5ft 2in), if female 1.535m (5ft), derived
from tibia length using the formulae of Trotter and Gleser (Brothwell 1981).
The bones are notable for their evidence of unusual physical activity. Attachment areas
for ligaments and muscles are strongly developed while the degenerative changes to the
articular surfaces are not severe except where there has evidently been a reaction to trauma.
At some time before death an accident, probably a fall landing on the right leg resulted in
dislocation of the right tibia-fibula joint and impact injury to the interphalangeal joints of
the second and fifth toes (Figure 4). Periostitis (new bone growth) around the right ankle
was probably caused by inflammation of the joint at the time of injury. A false tibia-fibula
joint developed below on the medial side of the left tibia. There is a spur of bone (enthesis)
below the joint surface on the medial side of the left tibia. The disease congenital diaphyseal
aclasis was considered but the growths usually join the bone at right angles to the bone shaft
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Equids and an acrobat
Table 1. Dimensions (mm) of bones from Area FS.
FS 1374
C A B FS 1449
Measurements male? male male female?
Ulna: minimum circumference 37
Femur: length from greater trochanter to distal end 401 491
Femur: epicondylar breadth 77
Femur: anterior-posterior subtrochanteric diameter 25 23.5r
Femur: medio-lateral subtrochanteric diameter 32.5 33r
Femur: anterior-posterior midshaft diameter 28.5 28.5r 28.9 32.8r 29.5
Femur: medio-lateral midshaft diameter 25.5 26r 24.3 27.8r 30.2
Femur: midshaft circumference 88 88rm
Femur: head/shaft angle 120/125
Tibia: length 330r
Tibia: maximum length 339r 397
Tibia: maximum proximal epiphyseal breadth 72 71r
Tibia: maximum distal epiphyseal breadth 50r
Tibia: maximum diameter at nutrient foramen 36 35r 35.9 39.6r 36.9
Tibia: medio-lateral diameter at NF 22 20r 23.4 25.4r 23.4
Tibia: circumference at nutrient foramen 92 90r
Fibula: maximum length 322r 386
Fibula: maximum midshaft diameter 14.5r
Fibula: minimum midshaft diameter 10r
Patella: height 39 39r 42.9 51.2
Patella: breadth 41 41r 47.1 50.0 45.2r
Talus: maximum length 50r
Talus: articular surface length 32r 33.6 39.9r 30.2r
r = measurement taken on bone from right side, all other measurements taken on bones from left side.
Figure 4. Healed trauma: a) knee. A false joint probably developed following a dislocation of the right fibula-tibia. The
proximal articular surface of the right fibula is deformed; it matches a similar area below the normal articular facet on the
tibia. The distal end of the right fibula has a slightly anomalous shortened articulation. There is healed periostitis of the distal
shaft; b) toe bones: small pits on the plantar surface of the middle phalanges of right and left second toes could be claw toes
due to persistent hyper-flexing. One toe also has signs of an ossified ligament presumably following trauma. The right fifth toe
is deformed as a result of trauma; c) tibia with enthesopathy or bony spur following injury.
(Edeiken & Hodes 1967: 104, 107). Recovery and compensation were good, so that there
can have been little residual disability and normal activity was resumed since there is no sign
of wasting or bone atrophy.
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Joan Oates, Theya Molleson & Arkadiusz Sołtysiak
Figure 5. Thigh bones, dorsal
aspect of left and right femur
shafts. There are strong impres-
sions on both for attachment
of gluteus maximus. A well-
developed attachment area for
the medialhead of gastrocnemius
is seen on the right femur, just
above the knee; the left has a well
marked line for vastus medialis.
Although the bone morphology is complicated by the injury,
some indications of habitual activity that led to bone modelling
can be discerned. Attachment areas for ligaments and muscles
are generally strongly developed, while the degenerative changes
to the articular surfaces of the bones are not severe except where
there has evidently been a reaction to trauma. The vertebrae of
the spine show signs of severe disc damage, especially the third
and fourth neck vertebrae, possibly the result of a whiplash
injury sustained at the time of the fall. The thoracic vertebrae
have moderate disc damage, and there are osteoarthritic changes
on the head of the humerus.
On both ulnae, the crest that supports the supinator muscle
(the muscle that turns the forearm when the elbow is straight)
is pronounced. Its strong development has been identified in
spear throwers, when it is usually more pronounced in one arm
than the other (Eshed et al. 2004; Peterson 1997). Here both
arms are involved. Both femora have marked impressions where
the gluteus maximus is attached. This muscle is an extensor and
rotator of the thigh; it straightens the knee and the trunk and
contracts strongly in most forms of jumping. The linea aspera
along the back of the femur has a double edge suggesting that
the muscles of the thigh were well developed (Figure 5). The
quadriceps muscle especially is essential for the stability of the
knee, and it extends the leg.
There is evidence that particularly strong rotational forces were imposed on the knees.
This includes large prominent areas where the cruciate ligaments attach on both femur
and tibia joint surfaces (Figure 6). The articular surfaces of the knees also have some
arthritic lipping (S
¨
ager Grade I: see Brothwell 1981) and pitting (S
¨
ager Grade II), where
the protecting cartilage of the joint has been damaged and worn. These changes are more
pronounced on the left.
The patellas are broad with a large area for attachment of the vastus medialis (part of
the quadriceps muscle). There are deep grooves above the tibial tuberosity, especially on the
left side, reflecting strong pulls on the patella by the quadriceps muscle. Strong lower leg
muscles the hamstrings are indicated by the prominence of the soleal line on the back
of the tibia. The hamstrings flexing the knees and hips through the action of the rectus
femoris muscle achieve a spring-like action of the legs, useful during jumping with flexed
knees (Kapandji 1987: 138). Well-developed soleal lines were also seen on the legs of the
cart driver from Ur (Molleson & Hodgson 1993).
The calcaneus bone of the right heel (the left is incomplete) has a bony spur or enthesis
where the Achilles tendon attaches. This together with strongly developed muscle and
ligament attachments on the toes of both feet is interpreted as resulting from habitual and
energetic activity. The latter are best seen on the left foot, the changes to the right foot being
modified by the consequences of injury. The ligament imprints on the toes suggest that
the toes were strongly flexed persistently, with the result that pits developed in the plantar
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Equids and an acrobat
Figure 6. Knees: a-b) right and left femoral condyles have very prominent attachment areas for anterior and posterior cruciate
ligaments, which resist twisting and turning movements of the knee. The intercondylar fossa is deep; c-d) proximal articulation
of the tibias showing large attachment areas for posterior cruciate ligament and horns of meniscus.
surface of the middle phalanges of the second toes that is, claw foot (Figure 4b). The
degenerative changes noted on the left fifth metatarsal and especially the proximal phalanges
of the second, fourth and fifth toes of the right foot, probably resulted from repetitive impact
trauma.
The overall impression is that these are the bones of someone who was physically
active, using jumping and turning movements in a very disciplined way with feet pointed
downwards during leaps, much as can be seen in some modern dancers (Figure 7). The
activity was not without risk, and an early fall resulted in some residual disability. Thus the
distinctive morphology of the leg bones of skeleton FS 1374C seems consistent with the
forces that would be imposed on the skeleton by energetic activity of a type that would seem
implied by the basic meaning of h
´
ub.
We therefore propose that this now reunited skeleton is one of this mysterious group
of people from Brak-Nagar, known in the texts as h
´
ub or h
´
ub.ki, a term that carries the
sense of ‘jumping about’ and translated by Catagnoti (1997) as acrobats or ‘jugglers and
by Archi (1998) as ‘horsemen’. The h
´
ub are listed together with singers and dancers in Ebla
documents recording the issue of clothes; in other words they would seem to be some form
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Joan Oates, Theya Molleson & Arkadiusz Sołtysiak
Figure 7. A professional dancer performing a jump turn shows the extreme development of many of the muscles seen on FS
1374C from Tell Brak. After a photograph by Jacques Grenier.
Figure 8. Reconstructed seal impression, showing a
procession of spiky-haired acrobats bent over backwards.
From deposits associated with the Area SS building, Tell
Brak (drawing by H. McDonald).
of entertainer’. Moreover, actual evidence
of acrobats at Nagar can be seen in
contemporary seal impressions from a
second monumental building (Area SS).
Here some 80 impressions of a single seal,
illustrated in Figure 8, were recovered from
the building itself and a large pit into
which material from the building had been
dumped (McDonald 2003: 222 & Fig-
ure 6.73; Area SS2, Oates & Oates 2001:
91 & Figure 13). Both deposits date from
sometime before 2250 BC.
397
Equids and an acrobat
Certainly the distinctive morphology of the leg bones of skeleton FS 1374C seems
consistent with the forces that would be imposed by energetic activity of a type that is
implied by the basic meaning of h
´
ub, the ‘jumping’ acrobats of Nagar.
Archaeological context
To return to the context of the skeleton itself, this is certainly unusual. Superficially, the
lack of heads and the upper portions of the other two bodies suggest their extremely
brutal treatment. Yet all other offerings in the building are of great value. There was also
evidence of apparently ritual burning, especially in the temple courtyard (Oates et al.
2001: Figure 386) a practice attested elsewhere as accompanying ritual closures (Bjorkman
1994). The care that was taken in the closure of this complex, the valuable offerings,
together with the presence of another large public building at the western end of the
site (Area SS) with an identical and clearly contemporary history of brief abandonment
and ritual closure seem unequivocally to attest continuity of occupation despite the brief
abandonment of the site. (The Akkadian date of the abandonment of both buildings is
also certain on the evidence of the associated objects, pottery and texts, together with
the fact that some parts of the FS complex were rebuilt in the overlying Late Akkadian
level).
Given the evidence for continuity of occupation, the lack of any evidence of actual
destruction and the costly offerings that accompanied the ritual closures, the identification
of the dismembered bodies illustrated in Figure 3 as local is more difficult to explain. If
the abandonment of these large institutions was the result of human action, their mutilated
presence might be seen as an act of revenge against those responsible. If, however, we
are to argue that one of them is likely to have been one of the acrobats known to have
been specialists of some status directly associated with Brak-Nagar, such an explanation
seems less likely, though local and undoubtedly murderous intrigues were presumably far
from unknown. The sacrifice of valuable animals and jewellery, however, suggests at least
the possibility of another explanation, that these bodies represent some form of human
sacrifice as appeasement to the natural forces that may have been responsible for the
brief abandonment for which we have evidence. Certainly some form of environmental
catastrophe remains a possible explanation, though this event’ remains a highly disputed
topic (discussed in more detail in Courty 2001).
Conclusion
The distinctive morphology of the leg and foot bones of skeleton FS 1374C seems consistent
with the forces that would be imposed by energetic activity of the type associated with
acrobats, perhaps as one of the famous h
´
ub of Nagar. Thus at least one of our dismembered
bodies was conceivably a local citizen. Another of this group of skeletons has already been
identified as a possible wagon driver, an individual who could therefore have had some
professional connection with the building itself (see Molleson 2001: 351, skeleton 1374A).
Our suggestion, therefore, is that these bodies may represent sacrifices comparable with
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Joan Oates, Theya Molleson & Arkadiusz Sołtysiak
the other valuables deposited in the ritual closure of the building. The new osteological
evidence would seem, moreover, to confirm the translation of h
´
ub as acrobat’, a conclusion
reinforced by the evidence of contemporary sealings (Figure 8). Certainly ‘horse-rider’
has always seemed less likely given the lack of evidence for horses at this date (Oates
2003).
Acknowledgements
We are most grateful to Professor Basil Shepstone, Radcliffe Royal Infirmary, Oxford, for commenting on the
pathological changes noted on the bones, and to Professor Roger Matthews, UCL, for permission to use the
revised seal drawing published in Figure 8. Photographs of FS 1374C were taken by A. Sołtysiak. Figure 7 by P.
Crabb, Photo Studio, Natural History Museum, after a photograph by Jacques Grenier.
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... Additionally, more than 80 skeletons, predominately neonates, were found in the domestic (Sołtysiak, 2009) and ritual (Oates et al., 2008) contexts dated to the EBA, with several disarticulated human remains (MNI = 32) found in Area TCJ in the eastern part of the main mound and dated to the period when Tell Brak was largely abandoned after the fall of the Akkadian empire (Emberling et al., 2012;Sołtysiak, 2009). The teeth from most of the excavated skeletons were exported to Poland and are curated at the Faculty of Archaeology, University of Warsaw. ...
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The urbanization of Mesopotamia in the 4th millennium BCE led to unprecedented social, economic, and political changes. Tell Brak, located in the Syrian Khabur basin, is one of the best-known early urban sites from this period. Surveys suggest that urban growth at Tell Brak resulted from peripheral expansion driven by the migration of several distinct groups; however, it is not known whether these groups remained recognizably distinct within the newly formed urban center. In the current study, the impact of early urbanization on social organization was explored using non-metric dental data from skeletons excavated from the main site at Tell Brak (n = 111) and its satellite mound Tell Majnuna (n = 179). The Arizona State University Dental Anthropology System (ASUDAS) was employed to examine biodistance between population subsets from the period of early urbanization in the Late Chalcolithic (LC) and the Early Bronze Age (EBA). The results demonstrate differences in dental morphology among the LC groups indicating segmentation within the early urban population at Tell Brak. Patterns of social organization associated with urbanization have thus framed the socio-cultural landscape of even the earliest cities, and bioarchaeological data can be a useful tool for understanding both ancient and modern urbanization.
... A similar avascular necrosis (or the death of bone tissue) had been documented in the elbows of Japanese baseball players but was absent in Western athletes. 12 Since his study, subsequent bioarchaeologists have studied human remains to make inferences about acrobatics (Oates et al. 2008), bronze casting (Zhang et al. 2017), clay shoveling (Knüsel et al. 1996, deep-sea fishing (Standen et al. 1997), farming (Bridges 1989;Chapman 1997;Molleson 1989;Sládek et al. 2007), food preparation (Miller et al. 2018); hide production (Merbs 1983;Steen 2005;Steen and Lane 1998), horseback riding (Anđelinović et al. 2015;Khudaverdyan et al. 2016), hunting and gathering (Bridges 1989;Churchill and Morris 1998;Eshed et al. 2004;Kennedy 1983), kayaking (Hawkey and Merbs 1995;Merbs 1983;Molnar 2006;Steen and Lane 1998), pottery making (Becker 2016), river canoeing 11 I acknowledge but leave it for other researchers to explore in greater detail transgenerational plasticity, or heritable epigenetic changes Mulligan 2016). 12 The condition is also known as Panner's disease, named for the orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Dane Panner who first described it. ...
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In this chapter, I bring necropolitics to the fore. As developed by postcolonial theorist Achille Mbebme, necropolitics grows out of Michel Foucault’s earlier statements about biopower (and biopolitics). Georges Canguilhem’s philosophizing about the normal and pathological served as a prelude to those conversations. Subsequent scholars’ readings of biopower examine it in relation to the Holocaust specifically and genocide more generally. Yet, so many prior treatments, while crucial for intellectual development, rely on discourse analysis. To fully gauge the significance of genocide, biopower, and necropolitics—to wrap one’s brain around the enormity of numbers, the spatial extent of destruction, the effects of interpersonal and structure violences—discursive analysis requires grounding with material evidence. Researchers of contextualized human remains have a unique contribution to make. Here I review mortuary and bioarchaeological studies of genocide in the twentieth century. I also discuss how forensic anthropologists have materialized necropolitical processes. Their excavations of mass graves and identification of the corpses therein, while not without issues, do extend Mbembe’s ideas about dead bodies in important ways. Less clear is how biopower and necropolitics apply to ancient and historic case studies. While bioarchaeological studies attest to structural and interpersonal violences in the past, the phenomena that Foucault and Mbembe concern themselves with signal modernity and not antiquity. For my part, I discuss bioarchaeological and biohistorical studies of enslavement and violent settler colonialism in the nineteenth century. I also tie these examples to the subfield’s origins, tracking complicity from inception into contemporary classrooms.
... A similar avascular necrosis (or the death of bone tissue) had been documented in the elbows of Japanese baseball players but was absent in Western athletes. 12 Since his study, subsequent bioarchaeologists have studied human remains to make inferences about acrobatics (Oates et al. 2008), bronze casting (Zhang et al. 2017), clay shoveling (Knüsel et al. 1996, deep-sea fishing (Standen et al. 1997), farming (Bridges 1989;Chapman 1997;Molleson 1989;Sládek et al. 2007), food preparation (Miller et al. 2018); hide production (Merbs 1983;Steen 2005;Steen and Lane 1998), horseback riding (Anđelinović et al. 2015;Khudaverdyan et al. 2016), hunting and gathering (Bridges 1989;Churchill and Morris 1998;Eshed et al. 2004;Kennedy 1983), kayaking (Hawkey and Merbs 1995;Merbs 1983;Molnar 2006;Steen and Lane 1998), pottery making (Becker 2016), river canoeing 11 I acknowledge but leave it for other researchers to explore in greater detail transgenerational plasticity, or heritable epigenetic changes Mulligan 2016). 12 The condition is also known as Panner's disease, named for the orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Dane Panner who first described it. ...
Chapter
The history of anthropology has made a tradition of studying the body. Among those early scholars who gifted us with fundamental ideas was Marcel Mauss. In the 1920s, Mauss’s students at the University of Paris acted as sounding board for his thoughts on body techniques. He formalized his lecture notes for a 1934 presidential address to the Société de Psychologie. His abbreviated statements about habitus inspired Pierre Bourdieu’s compelling treatment of the concept. Bourdieu went on to develop hexis, or embodied habitus. That practices and beliefs, structures and dispositions, leave imprints on bodies is an ingress for bioarchaeology. Here, citing modern and ancient examples and with an awareness of the potential pitfalls, I sketch out the beginnings of a bioarchaeology of body habits.
... A similar avascular necrosis (or the death of bone tissue) had been documented in the elbows of Japanese baseball players but was absent in Western athletes. 12 Since his study, subsequent bioarchaeologists have studied human remains to make inferences about acrobatics (Oates et al. 2008), bronze casting (Zhang et al. 2017), clay shoveling (Knüsel et al. 1996, deep-sea fishing (Standen et al. 1997), farming (Bridges 1989;Chapman 1997;Molleson 1989;Sládek et al. 2007), food preparation (Miller et al. 2018); hide production (Merbs 1983;Steen 2005;Steen and Lane 1998), horseback riding (Anđelinović et al. 2015;Khudaverdyan et al. 2016), hunting and gathering (Bridges 1989;Churchill and Morris 1998;Eshed et al. 2004;Kennedy 1983), kayaking (Hawkey and Merbs 1995;Merbs 1983;Molnar 2006;Steen and Lane 1998), pottery making (Becker 2016), river canoeing 11 I acknowledge but leave it for other researchers to explore in greater detail transgenerational plasticity, or heritable epigenetic changes Mulligan 2016). 12 The condition is also known as Panner's disease, named for the orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Dane Panner who first described it. ...
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“I am a woman’s rights,” began Sojourner Truth before a packed audience at the Ohio Woman’s Rights Convention (Painter 1996: 125–6, 281–2). Her speech that May day in 1851 recounted her lived experience as a woman. It also conveyed how Truth’s gender was inextricable from her identity as an emancipated black slave and evangelical Christian. Her words were quite personal though reflected a collective experience of suffering and resilience, which resonated among the suffragists and abolitionists of antebellum America. Enslavement, poverty, and extreme manual labor also left distinct and observable marks on Truth’s body. “I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man,” she related, “I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?” (Painter 1996:125). As her heroism became less the stuff of history and more the stuff of legend, Truth’s words morphed into the powerful and political rallying cry “ain’t I a woman.” Yet, the reference to a monolithic idea of womanhood belied the diversity of women’s realities.
... Current methods of assessing and interpreting variation in enthesial development are not without controversy (Henderson 2013;Jurmain and Roberts 2008;Molleson 2008;Stirland 1998). Overlap in how key concepts are defined and lingering disagreement about which category of enthesis (fibrous or fibrocartilagenous) is most informative (Lieverse et al. 2013;Niinimäki and Baiges Sotos 2013;Weiss 2012) have created some degree of confusion in how best to score and interpret enthesial data ). ...
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In recent years the bioarchaeology of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands has seen enormous progress. This new and exciting research is synthesised, contextualised and expanded upon in The Routledge Handbook of Bioarchaeology in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. The volume is divided into two broad sections, one dealing with mainland and island Southeast Asia, and a second section dealing with the Pacific Islands. A multi-scale approach is employed to the bio-social dimensions of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands with contributions varying between region and/or site-specific scales of operation to the individual or personal scale. The more personal level of osteobiographies enriches the understanding of the lived experience in past communities. By including a number of contributions from sub-disciplinary approaches tangential to bio-archaeology, the book provides a broad theoretical and methodological approach. It provides new information on the globally relevant topics of farming, population mobility, subsistence and health; no other volume provides such a range of coverage on these important themes.
Article
Burial mounds piled high with enemy corpses are well known in Mesopotamian inscriptions as symbols of victory, but no archaeological examples have so far been recovered. Archaeological investigations of a tall mound adjacent to the site of Tell Banat in Syria have revealed an unusual, late third-millennium BC mortuary population, dominated by adult and sub-adult males. The systematic placement of these human remains and associated assemblages suggests that, rather than containing enemy combatants, this was a memorial to a community's battle dead. The authors propose that the deceased belonged to an organised army, with broader implications for state administration and the adherence or resistance to a new regime fostered by such monumentalisation.
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Palaeopathology is an evidence-based guide to the principal types of pathological lesions often found in human remains and how to diagnose them. Tony Waldron presents an innovative method of arriving at a diagnosis in the skeleton by applying what he refers to as 'operational definitions'. The method ensures that those who study bones will use the same criteria for diagnosing disease, thereby enabling valid comparisons to be made between studies. Waldron's book is based on modern clinical knowledge and provides background information on the natural history of bone disease. In addition, the volume demonstrates how results from studies should be analysed, methods of determining the frequency of disease, and other types of epidemiological analysis. This edition includes new chapters on the development of palaeopathology, basic concepts, health and disease, diagnosis, and spinal pathology. Chapters on analysis and interpretation have been thoroughly revised and enlarged.
Thesis
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The present study aspires to clarify the archaeological context of Umm El-Marra, investigated during the excavation campaigns carried out since 1994, by John Hopkins University and the University of Amsterdam, under the supervision of Glenn M. Schwartz and Hans H. Curvers. The archaeological site is located in the Jabbul Plain in northern Syria, a few kilometers east of Aleppo and Ebla. All the tombs have been examined and they dating back to the Ancient Bronze Age and to the period between 2500 and 2200 BCE. It has been analyzed all the various aspects concerning both the purely scientific-anthropological field, considering the possible pathologies and methods of deposition of both human and animal skeletal remains present on the site and the funeral practices, sacrificial or not, which were in use in Syria of the third millennium BCE. The purpose of the study is to create a general picture of the uses and customs of the population who lived in Umm El-Marra, also underlining the aspects concerning the importance given to the equidae; the gender issue, male or female, examining the grave goods and finally illustrating how the ritual of the kispum could have been officiated in that particular context, taking information from the written sources. By doing so, it is possible to understand the research better, in order to try to have an overall look and to answer the difficult questions regarding the theme of sacrifice, possibly human or animal, of which there is still no certain answer.
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Although most of the animal remains recorded throughout the archaeological excavations consist usually of large assemblages of discarded and fragmented bones, it is possible to yield articulated animal skeletons in some cases. Most of them have been usually picked up from sacred and/or funerary contexts, but not all of them might fit necessarily in ritual and symbolic interpretations, and not all of the structured deposit of animal remains may be explained due to anthropic factors. In addition, zooarchaeology has traditionally focused on animal domestication, husbandry and economy, and species identification above all, shutting out further discussion about these type of findings. Moreover, the limited condition of the data is also another issue to bear in mind. Thus, the aim of this paper has been to draw up a literature review of the structured deposits of animal remains during the third and second millennia BC in the Ancient Near East for its subsequent classification and detailed interpretation. In this survey it has been attested that not only most of the articulated animal remains have been found in ritual and/or funerary contexts but also that all species recorded– but some exceptions–are domestic. Hence, I argue in this paper that there is a broad religious attitude towards the main domesticated animals of human economy in the Ancient Near East, based on the closeness of these animals to the human sphere. Therefore, it seems that domesticated animals were powerful constituents in the cultural landscape of these regions, never simply resources.
Article
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Pennsylvania, 1994. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 708-732). Photocopy.
Article
This paper attempts to quantify the changes in activity patterns of early farming populations in the Levant through the musculoskeletal stress markers (MSM) of the upper limb as seen in skeletal remains. The transition to an agricultural way of life resulted in higher loads on the upper limb in Neolithic populations compared to the Natufian hunter-gatherer populations that preceded them. The MSM pattern for males and females indicates a gender-based division of labor both in the Natufian and the Neolithic. It may also suggest that people in the Neolithic period were engaged in different (new) activities and occupations compared to the Natufian.
The marriage of Eblaite princess Tagris-Damu with a son of Nagar's King
  • Biga
Biga, M.G. 1998. The marriage of Eblaite princess Tagriš-Damu with a son of Nagar's King. Subartu IV/2: 17-22.
Hoards and Deposits in Bronze Age Mesopotamia Ann Arbor (MI): University Microfilms International Dissertation Services. Brothwell, D.R. 1981. Digging up Bones
  • J K Bjorkman
Bjorkman, J.K. 1994. Hoards and Deposits in Bronze Age Mesopotamia. Ann Arbor (MI): University Microfilms International Dissertation Services. Brothwell, D.R. 1981. Digging up Bones. London: British Museum (Natural History) & Oxford University Press.