Anna Barrett

The impact of sociocultural and environmental change on air quality and respiratory health in the 4th Cataract, Sudan: a bioarchaeological perspective

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

What might evidence of respiratory disease in human remains tell us about changing lives and environments in the 4th Cataract?

Start Date: October 2015
End Date: October 2018
Theme: What objects can reveal about the social, cultural, religious, creative and political history of their makers, users, owners, depositors and collectors
Research discipline: Archaeology, Anthropology, Scientific Research
Locations: Africa
Staff member: Daniel Antoine
Department: Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan
University and department: Department of Archaeology, Durham University
University supervisor: Charlotte Roberts

How prevalent were lung problems?

The prevalence of lung problems can be used in conjunction with other health indicators to tell us about the quality of life of the people of the 4th Cataract.

Did respiratory disease vary according to sex, age and social status?

Differences in rates of respiratory disease may be able to give an insight into the types of activities and lifestyles different social groups were taking part in.

Do patterns of respiratory disease change over time?

Changes to the pattern of respiratory disease can be compared to changes in climate and environment, as well as social, cultural, and occupational practices, to determine whether these factors are correlated with the disease.


About my research

Increasing air pollution is now a huge problem in modern cities and urban environments around the world. It has been linked to a rise in susceptibility to a range of respiratory diseases, including sinusitis, tuberculosis, asthma, and pneumonia. However, poor air quality is not a problem solely related to modern day populations.

This project focuses on analysing human skeletal remains from archaeological populations for evidence of respiratory diseases. These diseases can be detected in the human skeleton by observing pathological changes to the sinuses and ribs. The populations analysed come from the 4th Cataract area in Sudan, spanning from the Neolithic to the Christian period. Knowing how prevalent respiratory diseases were in these populations allows us to investigate possible lifestyles and activities that may have influenced susceptibility. This will, in turn, help us to understand the changing problems and quality of life of the inhabitants of the 4th Cataract.


Aims of my research

This project will investigate the presence of respiratory disease in 4th Cataract populations in relation to air quality.

The research seeks to establish if patterns in the prevalence of respiratory disease through time can be correlated with changes to climate, environment, and sociocultural practices which may have affected air quality. The project will also look at any possible variation in the presence of respiratory disease according to sex, age, and social status. It is hoped that the research will ultimately lead to a greater understanding of the complex factors affecting respiratory health and provide comparable data to other sites within the Middle Nile Valley.