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Keywords:

  • injury;
  • Nubia;
  • Sudan;
  • fracture;
  • urban;
  • interpersonal violence

Abstract

Injuries, whether accidental or intentional, have incapacitated humans and their primordial ancestors throughout time, although the injury mechanisms have become increasingly more technologically sophisticated. Interpretation of injury aetiology among past peoples is challenging, and often impossible, however, clinical research from developing countries provides a useful analogy with which to evaluate trauma or health patterns of an ancient society. This paper presents a systematic analysis of cranial and postcranial skeletal trauma among 223 adults who were excavated by George Reisner in 1923 from the city of Kerma (1750–1550 BC), Egypt's ancient nemesis in the struggle for control of the Nile River trade route. A total of 156 injuries (fractures, dislocations and muscle pulls among the skull, long bones, extremities and torso) were observed among 88 individuals, 48 of whom had one injury only. The skull was the most frequently traumatized element (11.2%) followed by the ulna (8.3%); 2.4% (48/2029) long bones were fractured.

The modal distribution of the Kerma fractures was compared to the fracture distributions of two samples from India and Nigeria where falls were the most common cause of injury. Some characteristics of the three injury patterns were shared: males suffered the greatest frequency of injury, the economically active people (25 to 50 years of age) presented the most injuries among adults, and a small proportion of the victims had more than one major injury. However, the Kerma distribution of the fractured bones varied dramatically from the clinical injury distributions: the ulna and skull were among the least frequently injured bones in the modern samples, while the radius, humerus and lower leg were the most commonly traumatized elements among the modern people, but rare among the ancients. The configuration of the ulna and skull injuries at Kerma was characteristic of those associated with blunt force trauma in other clinical assessments and the absence of these specific lesions from the modern samples where accident was the primary injury mechanism presents a persuasive argument for interpersonal violence among the ancient Kerma people. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.