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The neat cleaver cuts of a butcher.

Faunal & Human Remains

In dry conditions bone preserves well, sometimes retaining tissue. The Amarna desert is thus favourable to the recovery of both human and animal bone.

The desert edge has been a favourite place for human burial since ancient times. Excavation in the main city at Amarna periodically produces either burials still in their original graves or human bones loose in the archaeological debris. Often their date cannot be determined. Sometimes the circumstances suggest that they derive from the Amarna Period. This is the case with a few found beneath walls of the Amarna Period in grid 8, close to edge of cultivation and modern water tower. More concentrated areas of burial can be dated by associated pottery and occasional coins to the Late Roman Period. Bones from a badly disturbed cemetery of this time south of the Great Palace formed part of the material recovered from the grid 10 excavations. Several burials, mainly of children, were found in the rubble of the Christian monastery at Kom el-Nana, and must therefore date to a time, after the Arab Conquest, when it lay in ruins. These human remains, which together do not represent a coherent population, are stored in a section of the site magazine.

Until the advent of the desert hinterland survey the fate of those who had died at Amarna when the city was in full occupation remained a mystery. We now know that there are several cemeteries of poor people of the Amarna Period out in the desert. In 2005 a start was made on investigating one of them (grid 14), perhaps the largest, close to the southern group of rock tombs. Although no summary of results has yet been written for this part of the web site, two detailed reports on the human remains, by physical anthropologist Jerry Rose, will be found in the section Excavation & Survey/South Tombs Cemetery.

Animal bone is a regular part of archaeological deposits at Amarna, apparently refuse casually discarded by the inhabitants. Although of common occurrence the amounts are not large, though whether this reflects a diet low in meat or a fairly effective disposal of refuse is hard at present to say. Little of it shows tooth marks from dogs or traces of gnawing by rodents. Since 1979, when excavations began in the Workmen’s Village, bone has been recovered by the sieving of all deposits excavated and kept for study. Three zooarchaeologists have studied it in turn, Howard Hecker, Rosemary Luff and Phillipa Payne. Most attention has been paid to the domestic mammals, principally cattle, pig, sheep and goats. The reports filed under the Zooarchaeology section of this part of the website (/Faunal & Human Remains/Zooarchaeology) mainly cover these dominant species, with particular reference to material recovered in recent seasons. The chief question to be addressed is how the flow of meat was maintained: was it centrally distributed through the Aten temples (which were provided with abundant offering-tables) or were individual families left to raise or purchase livestock with their own resources?

Rosemary Luff also developed a detailed study of the fish remains, especially those from the Nile catfish. These studies, which are listed in the Environmental History part of the Publications section (/Publications/Environmental History), compared data from the Amarna Period, from the Late Roman Period, and from a regular series of catches done at the time of the research. The changing character of the catches over this extended period of time is intriguing and still open to further research, as a potential indicator of long-term changes in the fish stocks of the Nile.

Not all animal bones are food waste. In the last centuries of ancient Egyptian civilisation numerous cemeteries large and small were maintained for animals held to be sacred. Amarna seems so far to have produced two, both of them for dogs and both badly disturbed. One was in the area of grid 10, south of the Great Palace. The other was amongst the ruins of the storehouses attached to the King’s House in the Central City. These also have been the object of study by Phillipa Payne,(/Faunal & Human Remains/Zooarchaeology).

Diagram of
ages of death

Diagram based on identifications by Jerry Rose, see the section Excavations/South Tombs Cemetery

Website first posted September 2000; last updated October 2017 | enquiries concerning website: email bjk2@cam.ac.uk