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Background: The Umm an-Nar period (2700-2000 BCE) is known for its dichotomy between the rise in social hierarchy during life, seen in the construction of monumental towers and emergence of oasis agriculture, and equal treatment in death, seen in the commingling of all community members within monumental tombs. Umm an-Nar tombs Unar 1 (2400-2200 BCE) and Unar 2 (2300-2100 BCE) were part of the Shimal Necropolis in the United Arab Emirates. Archaeologists initially hypothesized that these tombs each contained 400+ people, but these estimates were not based on bioarchaeological methods.

Methods: Using the talus, the landmark and zonation methods were compared to assess the minimum number of individuals (MNI) within Unar 1 and 2. As some individuals underwent cremation before interment, a Munsell Color Chart was used to assess the extent of heat-related changes to bone.

Results: The landmark (Unar 1: 87; Unar 2: 227) and zonation (Unar 1: 88; Unar 2: 228) methods produced comparable MNI results for each tomb but far below original MNI estimations made by archaeologists. Far fewer individuals were cremated at high temperatures earlier in the Umm an-Nar period, with Unar 2 showing a much higher percentage of calcined bone (63%) than Unar 1 (26%) (X2= 200.738, df=2, p<0.0001).

Conclusion: Results suggests that the population may have grown over time, and that later residents needed a larger tomb to house more of their dead. Increasing frequencies of calcined bone indicates a shift in mortuary practices over time in which cremation may have become more important in processing the dead.

Funding Statement: This research was funded by a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Award (#1852426).


Biological and Physical Anthropology


A Tali of Two Tombs: Calculating MNI and Bone Calcination in Commingled Remains from Two Bronze Age Tombs in the UAE

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