Date of Graduation
Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology (PhD)
Jerome C. Rose
J. Michael Plavcan
Second Committee Member
Justin M. Nolan
The end of the Late Bronze Age in the Near East (1300 - 1200 BCE) saw the widespread collapse of several large cultural centers, the reasons for which are a subject of continued debate. Evidence from events leading up to this cultural collapse suggest epidemic disease may have factored into the eventual downfall of these early civilizations. Recent DNA analysis from Egyptian mummies who lived during the period leading up to the Late Bronze Age collapse identified malaria in several elite individuals, suggesting the widespread prevalence of this infectious disease in Egypt. However, the exact prevalence, antiquity, and dynamics of malaria in the Near East, including what role it may have played in the shifting cultural and political landscape of the Late Bronze Age, remain uncertain. This dissertation delves into this question of malarial spread and impact in the Near East in a multidisciplinary approach. Existing evidence from ancient literary texts, biology and pathophysiology, theoretical models, entomology, paleoclimatology, and historical records of malaria epidemics are surveyed and incorporated into a paleoepidemiological reconstruction of malaria. This reconstruction relies heavily on methods from epidemiology to identify a previously undefined skeletal manifestation of malaria and form a set of diagnostic criteria for identifying the disease in ancient populations. The new diagnostic method is then applied to the tightly dated human skeletal remains recovered from the ancient city of Amarna, Egypt. Results indicated five skeletal lesions effective in diagnosing malarial infection: cribra orbitalia, femoral cribra, humeral cribra, spinal lytic lesions, and periostitis. Although many of these lesions are not systematically reported by bioarchaeologists, high rates of cribra orbitalia over time and space in the Nile Valley suggest a malarial prevalence that remained substantial throughout dynastic Egypt. Furthermore, the application of the full diagnostic criteria to the Amarna skeletons showed a high prevalence of malaria within that population, with around 50% of individuals showing signs of recent infection. This prevalence rate, combined with demographic features and patterns of abnormal burial practices within the cemetery at Amarna, strongly suggest that malaria featured in the epidemics that afflicted the Near East prior to the collapse.
Smith, Nicole Elizabeth, "The Paleoepidemiology of Malaria in the Ancient Near East" (2015). Theses and Dissertations. 28.