In a middle-class tomb just east of the Nile River in what was Upper Nubia, a woman offers a glimpse of how two met civilizations met, mingled and a new pharaonic dynasty arose. Her tomb was Egyptian, but she was buried in the Nubian style — placed in a flexed position on her side and resting on a bed. Around her neck she wore amulets of the Egyptian god Bes, the protector of households.
Found in 2015, the Nubian woman is, according to Stuart Tyson Smith, a professor of archaeology and chair of the Department of Anthropology at UC Santa Barbara, a prime example of “cultural entanglement,” the process by which colonizing powers and indigenous people influence one another and change over time.
In a paper accepted for publishing in American Anthropologist, Michele Buzon of Purdue University and Smith explore cultural identity and transformation in the ancient village of Tombos in what is now northern Sudan. “Entanglement and the Formation of Ancient Nubian Napatan State” details the findings from Smith and Buzon’s excavations of cemeteries in Tombos, which became an important colonial hub after the Egyptians conquered Nubia around 1500 BCE.
“You get this really interesting entangled culture blending different elements in really different ways, but also there seems to be a lot of individual choice involved,” Smith explained. “It’s not just a matter of the two cultures mash up and then you get this new hybrid thing that’s consistent. There seems to be a lot of individual choice — whether or not you want a Nubian bed and/or an Egyptian coffin and/or to be wrapped like a mummy or whether or not you want an Egyptian-style amulet and/or Nubian ivory jewelry.”