Exploring Intersectional Identities and Geographic Origins in Ancient Nubia at Tombos, Sudan

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Michele R. Buzon
Kari A. Guilbault
Antonio Simonetti


As part of an intersectional investigation of changes in identity and lifeways during sociopolitical changes in the ancient Nile Valley, strontium isotope analysis has provided a useful entry for understanding local practices. At the site of Tombos, human residential mobility was spurred through Egyptian imperial actions in Nubia during the New Kingdom period (~1450–1050 B.C.). During this period, immigrants and locals interacted and influenced cultural symbols displayed in burials with migration ending with Egyptian occupation. Through the examination of multiple overlapping identities and experiences, patterns emerge. Isotopically identified locals are exclusive in tumulus graves and flexed body position (all skeletally sexed as female), consistent with the surrounding region.

However, locals also used materials and practices associated with the colonizers, including pyramid, chapel, and shaft tomb types; extended body position; coffins; and artifacts. These variations provide evidence of simultaneous experiences of multiple social statuses at Tombos. The findings provide fruitful avenues to explore motivations for varying identity expression related to such ideas as family traditions, religious beliefs, gender dynamics, deliberate signaling, and the concept of foreignness. Theoretical and intersectional approaches to isotope analyses also necessitate a reassessment of methodological, analytical, and ethical issues associated with research.

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