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The Necropolis in Qubbet el-Hawa, outside Aswan in southern Egypt
© Univ. de Jaén/afrol News
Health | Science - Education

Even governors in Pharaonic Egypt died in their 20s

Two craniums from the tombs of Aswan, dated to around 1750 BC

© Univ. de Jaén/afrol News
afrol News, 9 March
- Researchers have analysed more than 200 mummies from ancient Egypt, finding that even high dignitaries were poorly nourished and had infectious diseases. The typical governor in Pharaonic Egypt died before he was 30 years old.

Anthropologists and archaeologists from the Spanish universities of Granada and Jaén have analysed more than 200 mummies and skeletons from the Necropolis Qubbet el-Hawa in the Egyptian region of Aswan. They were surprised to see how early in life these men in leading positions had died and what they had died of.

"The ancient Egyptians did not live in such good conditions and were not surrounded by such opulence as was thought up to now," the Spanish researchers write. Rather, they "suffered from hunger and malnutrition, a whole range of infectious diseases and an extremely high infant mortality rate," the analyses had shown.

The research was conducted at the large burial place close to the current city of Aswan, south in Egypt, which was a frontier town north to the African-Egyptian empire of Nubia during the Twelfth Dynasty (1939-1760 BC), the period of origin of the analysed skeletons. The burial site contains the remains of "Aswan's leading dignitaries, whose identity is still unknown."

Professor Miguel Botella López from the University in Jaén says the study of the 200 skeletons and mummies in Qubbet el-Hawa can tell us much about the living conditions at this time in the history of the Egyptian civilisation.

"Although the cultural level of the age was extraordinary, the anthropological analysis of the human remains reveals the population in general and the governors - the highest social class - lived in conditions in which their health was very precarious, on the edge of survival," Mr Botella says.

The researchers have calculated the life expectancy in this society was less than

Excavations of the tombs in Qubbet el-Hawa, close to Aswan in Egypt

© Univ. de Jaén/afrol News
30 years. "They suffered from many problems of malnutrition and severe gastrointestinal disorders, due to drinking the polluted waters of the Nile," the anthropologists of the team found.

The researcher further found that the bones of the children buried at the site had no marks on them, "which demonstrates that they died from some serious infectious disease."

The analyses of human bone remains at Qubbet el-Hawa finally showed that Aswan was a multiethnic town. Genetic analyses of the remains showed that persons with a Mediterranean ethnic origin were buried side by side with persons of an African origin. Egyptians and Sudanese seemed to live in mixed marriages in the frontier society.

Oldest written sources to Central Africa's history
The tombs of the newly excavated Qubbet el-Hawa necropolis further showed a large number of extraordinary inscriptions from a period of around thousand years. The hieroglyphs in the grave of Governor Herjuf from around 2200 BC, for example, recount tales from Egyptian expeditions to central Africa and may prove to be unique written sources to Africa's early history.

Governor Herjuf even makes reference to "Pygmies" that were brought to Aswan following one of the expeditions. This is probably the oldest written reference existing describing this people.

Other inscriptions tell of Egypt's relations with the neighbouring region of Nubia - present-day Sudan - over a period of almost 1000 years, according to Mr Botella. Most inscriptions in the Necropolis are yet to be studied and may prove valuable to historians analysing the Central African region.

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