In approximately 1550 B.C., Egypt conquered its southern neighbor, ancient Nubia, and secured control of valuable trade routes. But rather than excluding the colonized people from management of the region, new evidence from an archaeological site on the Nile reveals that Egyptian immigrants shared administrative responsibilities for ruling this large province with native Nubians.
“The study of culture contact in the past has conventionally used ideas of unidirectional change and modification of a subordinate population by a socially dominant group. The idea that authoritarian European powers forced changes in submissive native cultures dominated this work,” explains Michele R. Buzon (University of Alberta). “However, more recent research has reevaluated these traditional notions and suggests that this model might not be appropriate for all situations of culture contact.”
Through an examination of the archaeological site of Tombos, a strategic point of control in Egyptian-controlled Nubia, Buzon sought to determine whether the people buried in a colonial cemetery were immigrants from Egypt or Nubians who had adopted Egyptian practices. Comparing skull measurements with other revealing features such as tomb architecture, grave objects, and burial position, Buzon founds that the imperial officials who were buried in symbolically-marked tombs were of both Egyptian and Nubian descent. Egyptians were generally laid to rest on their backs in small tombs or pyramids, while Nubians were buried in fetal position on a bed or cow’s skin.
“The combination of burial practices found at Tombos suggests that intermarriage between Nubians and Egyptians was likely,” Buzon writes. “The results of this study suggest that both local native Nubians and Egyptian immigrants participated in the administration of Nubia during this time.”