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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

Amara West: Health and Diet in ancient Nubia through climate and political change

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


The ancient town of Amara West is located on the west bank of the Nile, in the north of modern Sudan, about 750km downstream of Khartoum. Amara served as the administrative capital during the last two centuries of Egyptian control (1250-1050BC) over Upper Nubia (northern Sudan). It was a planned settlement housing Egyptian officials, military and associated staff. While contemporary Egyptian texts expound rhetoric of cultural domination, there is evidence from other border areas suggesting extensive interaction between Egyptians and Nubians. Around 1070BC Egyptian political control over Upper Nubia was lost, presumably at a time of profound climatic change in the region and the settlement at Amara West was assumed to have been abandoned. However, recent fieldwork in the cemeteries has revealed evidence that people continued to live in the area until c. 800BC even though settlement deposits for this later period is yet missing. Excavations at Amara West under the auspices of the British Museum have taken place annually since 2008 and are led by Dr. Neal Spencer Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum.

The project

The 3 year multidisciplinary research project "Health and Diet in ancient Nubia through political and climate change" is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Additional funding for excavations in the cemeteries and training of Sudanese bioarchaeologists comes from the Institute for Bioarchaeology. The project combines the study of human, botanical and faunal remains, zoological analysis, geomorphology and artefact studies, in order to elucidate how both the colonisers, and the colonised interacted and were affected by the shift in political authority and concurrent, significant, climate change.
Key collaborators in the project are P. Ryan and C. Cartwright, Department of Conservation and Scientific Research, British Museum, Prof. J. Woodward, Manchester University, Prof. M. Macklin, University of Aberystwyth and M. Buzon, Purdue University, Michigan. Supervised by Prof. Charlotte Roberts and Dr Andrew Millard, research postgraduate Michaela Binder contributes to the project by investigating the human remains focusing on pathological changes in the human remains and the analysis of carbon and oxygen isotopes as well as through supervising the cemetery excavations and analyzing the archaeological context of the graves.
In addition, Michaela Binder has led the Amara West Bioarchaeology Field School since 2011. This program, rooted within the Amara West research project focuses on providing training in bioarchaeology for Sudanese archaeologists and includes training in analytical techniques as well as field work in the cemeteries of Amara West.
In July 2013, a 3-day conference “Nubia in the New Kingdom” was held in the British Museum. Several members of the project including Michaela Binder held presentations on recent outcomes of their research. Aspects of the bioarchaeological research were presented by Michaela Binder at the meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropology (Knoxville, Tennessee, US) and British Association for Biological Anthropology and Bioarchaeology (York, UK) in 2013. Further research includes radiocarbon dating of carbonate in human bones in collaboration with J. Meadows Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology, Schleswig/ Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel, Germany) and A. Millard at Durham. The results were presented at the Radiocarbon Conference in Paris 2012.

Conference presentations

Annual Conference of the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology, University of York, 2013: Binder: Evidence for atherosclerosis in skeletal human remains: Cases from Amara West, Sudan (1300-800BC).

Annual Egyptological Colloquium, British Museum, London, 2013. Binder: The New Kingdom tombs at Amara West - Tracing cultural interactions in funerary customs

Sudan Archaeological Research Society Annual Colloquium, British Museum, London, 2013: Binder: Amara West 2013: New Kingdom and post-New Kingdom burials in Cemetery C

Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropology. Knoxville, Tennessee, 2013. Binder: Poster: Health and living conditions at Amara West - First results of the bioarchaeological analysis of the human remains". Invited poster symposium “Recent advances in the bioarchaeology of North and Central Sudan”.

21st International Radiocarbon conference, July 2012, Paris: Poster: Meadows, J, Binder, M., Millard. A. & Spencer, N.: How accurate are radiocarbon dates from bioapatite? Dating New Kingdom and Nubian burials at Amara West, Sudan. 

Sudan Archaeological Research Society Annual Colloquium, British Museum, London, 2012: Binder: The Cemeteries of Amara West – Results of the Field Season 2012.

Lecture invited by the Institute of Egyptology, University of Vienna, Austria. Binder: Die Friedhöfe des Neuen Reichs und der Dritten Zwischenzeit in Amara West – Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen des British Museum 2009-2011

Sudan Archaeological Research Society Annual Colloquium, British Museum, London, 2011. Binder: The 9th/10th century BC - New Evidence from Cemetery C at Amara West

12th International Nubian Studies Conference. London 2010: Binder: The Cemeteries of Amara West

Sudan Archaeological Research Society Annual Colloquium, British Museum, London. 2010: Binder: The New Kingdom Cemetery at Amara West


Thames Valley Ancient Egypt Society. Reading, 2013: Fundraising Study Day: Amara West: investigating life and death in ancient Nubia (Binder)

North East Ancient Egypt Society. Newcastle, 2012: Study Day “Ancient Egypt and Nubia”. The Human Remains at Amara West (Binder)

Wolfson Institute for Health and Wellbeing Research Podcasts: Amara West: health and diet in ancient Nubia through climate and political change (Binder)

Sudan Archaeological Society. British Council, Khartoum. 2011. Lecture: Recent fieldwork at Amara West (Binder)


Ryan P, Cartwright C, Spencer N. 2012. Archaeobotanical research in a pharaonic town in ancient Nubia. The British Museum Technical Research Bulletin 6, 97-107.

Spencer N. 2012. Insights into Life in occupied Kush during the New Kingdom: New Research at Amara West. Der Antike Sudan 23, 21-28.

Spencer N, Macklin MG, Woodward JC. 2012. Reassessing the abandonment of Amara West: the impact of a changing Nile? Sudan & Nubia 16, 37-43.

Binder M. 2011. The 10th-9th century BC - New Evidence from Cemetery C of Amara West. Sudan & Nubia 15, 39-53.

Binder M, Spencer N, Millet M. 2010. Cemetery D at Amara West: the Ramesside Period and its aftermath. Sudan & Nubia 14, 25–44.

In press

Binder M. Cultural traditions and transitions during the New Kingdom colonial period and its aftermath – Recent discoveries from
the cemeteries of Amara West. in: Welsby, D., Anderson, J.R. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies. OLA, Leuven.

Binder M, Spencer N. The bioarchaeology of Amara West in Nubia: Investigating the impacts of political, cultural and environmental change on health and diet, in: Fletcher, A., Antoine, D., Hill, J.D. (Eds.), Regarding the Dead. British Museum Press, London.

Spencer, N. Amara West: considerations on urban life in occupied Kush, in: Welsby, D., Anderson, J.R. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies. OLA, Leuven.

In review

Binder M, Roberts C, Spencer N, Antoine D & Cartwright C. Submitted. On the Antiquity of Cancer: Evidence for Metastatic Carcinoma in a Young Man from Ancient Nubia (c. 1200BC). PLoS One

Publications (non-scholarly)

Binder M & Spencer N. 2012 Amara West – Life in Egypt’s Nubian Empire. Current World Archaeology 54.

Binder M. 2011 Außergewöhnliches Amulett gefunden. Antike Welt 2/11: 5.


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