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Raising the Dead: The Bioarchaeology of the Saite and Roman Period Wall of the Crow Cemetery in Giza


This dissertation examines the extent to which sociopolitical changes from the Saite to Roman periods of Egyptian history affected the lives of a non-elite population from the Memphite region in Lower Egypt. This examination is accomplished through a multidimensional bioarchaeological approach that considers evidence of skeletal stress in remains from the Wall of the Crow Cemetery in Giza, in combination with archaeological and historical data.

Written sources suggest that while Memphite region was relatively stable and prosperous during the Saite period, the early to mid-Roman period was instead characterized by increasing oppression and segregation of the native Egyptian population. To investigate whether or not this supposedly harsh treatment of the general population by the Romans is supported by skeletal evidence, frequencies of non-specific skeletal stress markers were compared between the Saite and Roman period cemetery populations from the Wall of the Crow Cemetery at Giza.

In addition, historical data suggest that women were more marginalized during the Roman period than during the earlier Saite period. To examine whether sex-based health disparities increased through time as a result of this marginalization, frequencies of skeletal stress markers were also compared between the sexes, within and between the two periods.

Changes in mortuary treatment amongst the elite were quite drastic from the Saite to the Roman period. The Wall of the Crow material, however, suggests that the adaptations to evolving funerary beliefs amongst the non-elite were more subtle. By paying close attention to the mortuary context of the burials in conjunction with skeletal data, the present study examines the ways in which a likely non-literate population internalized the developments in funerary liturgy effected by the literate elite, and how and whether these adaptations were age- or sex-specific.

Finally, a large portion of this research project was devoted to the creation of a standardized database that allowed for the integration of skeletal and contextual data. The development of the database is outlined in the methodology chapter of this dissertation, and a central aim of the present research is to make the database template available to other researchers.

The dissertation is organized as follows: Part I provides the background to the study, and is divided in four chapters. Chapter Two outlines the historical and political background of the Saite and Roman periods in Egypt, as well as the social impact of political change and the fluctuating fortunes of the country on the general population. Chapter Three summarizes the theoretical perspectives at the basis of mortuary archaeology and bioarchaeology, and provides a review of recent work on Egyptian material. The specific aspects of skeletal stress and mortuary analysis utilized for the present study, as well as difficulties with interpretation, are outlined in Chapter Four.

Part II of the dissertation places the Wall of the Crow human remains and associated artifacts in their cultural context. Chapter Five describes mortuary practices in Saite and Roman Egypt, while Chapter Six considers the landscape of Giza in a religious and mortuary context. Part III presents the data. Chapter Seven sets out the research questions and hypotheses underpinning the study, Chapter Eight describes the site and the archaeological materials, and Chapter Nine provides the methods used in the analysis. Chapter Ten presents the results of the skeletal and mortuary analysis, while Chapter Eleven pays special attention to the non-adults in the material. Finally, Part IV contains the interpretation of the findings in two chapters: Chapter Twelve provides the discussion, and the final conclusions are presented in Chapter Thirteen.

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