Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-55597f9d44-t4qhp Total loading time: 0.25 Render date: 2022-08-08T07:05:34.401Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Article contents

Symbolic equids and Kushite state formation: a horse burial at Tombos

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2018

Sarah A. Schrader*
Leiden University, Faculty of Archaeology, P.O. Box 9515, 2300 RA Leiden, the Netherlands
Stuart Tyson Smith
University of California, Santa Barbara, Department of Anthropology, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
Sandra Olsen
The University of Kansas, Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum, 1345 Jayhawk Boulevard, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA
Michele Buzon
Purdue University, Department of Anthropology, 700 W. State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA
*Author for correspondence (Email:


The recent discovery of a well-preserved horse burial at the Third Cataract site of Tombos illuminates the social significance of equids in the Nile Valley. The accompanying funerary assemblage includes one of the earliest securely dated pieces of iron in Africa. The Third Intermediate Period (1050–728 BC) saw the development of the Nubian Kushite state beyond the southern border of Egypt. Analysis of the mortuary and osteological evidence suggests that horses represented symbols of a larger social, political and economic movement, and that the horse gained symbolic meaning in the Nile Valley prior to its adoption by the Kushite elite. This new discovery has important implications for the study of the early Kushite state and the formation of Kushite social identity.

Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2018 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Arbuckle, B.S. & McCarty, S.A. (ed.). 2014. Animals and inequality in the ancient world. Boulder: University Press of Colorado. Scholar
Argent, G. 2010. Do the clothes make the horse? Relationality, roles, and statuses in Iron Age Inner Asia. World Archaeology 42: 157–74. Scholar
Badawy, A. 1968. A history of Egyptian architecture. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Ben-Tor, D. 1989. The scarab: a reflection of ancient Egypt. Jerusalem: Israel Museum.Google Scholar
Bietak, M. n.d. The palatial precinct at the Nile branch (area H). Available at: (accessed 2 November 2017).Google Scholar
Boessneck, J. 1970. Ein altägyptisches pferdeskelett. Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Abteilung Kairo 26: 4347.Google Scholar
Boessneck, J. 1976. Tell el-Dab'a III. Die tierknochenfunde 1966–1969. Denkschriften der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 5: 2149.Google Scholar
Boessneck, J. & von den Driesch, A.. 1992. Tell el-Dabaa VII. Veinna: ÖAW.Google Scholar
Bökönyi, S. 1993. Two horse skeletons from the cemetery of Kurru, northern Sudan. Acta Archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 45: 301–16.Google Scholar
Bronk Ramsey, C. 2009. Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51: 337–60. Scholar
Buzon, M. 2006. Biological and ethnic identity in New Kingdom Nubia. Current Anthropology 47: 683–95. Scholar
Buzon, M., Smith, S.T. & Simonetti, A.. 2016. Entanglement and the formation of ancient Nubian Napatan state. American Anthropologist 118: 284300. Scholar
Chaix, L. 2006. The animal remains, in Vincentelli, I. (ed.) Hillat El-Arab: 187230. Oxford: Archaeopress.Google Scholar
Chard, T. 1937. An early horse skeleton. Journal of Heredity 28: 317–19. Scholar
Clutton-Brock, J. 1974. The Buhen horse. Journal of Archaeological Science 1: 89100. Scholar
Clutton-Brock, J. 1992. Horse power. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Connerton, P. 1989. How societies remember. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Scholar
Dalley, S.M. 1985. Foreign chariotry and cavalry in the armies of Tiglath-pileser III and Sargon II. Iraq 47: 3148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
deFrance, S.D. 2009. Zooarchaeology in complex societies: political economy, status, and ideology. Journal of Archaeological Research 17: 105–68. Scholar
Dunham, D. 1947. Four Kushite colossi in the Sudan. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 33: 6365. Scholar
Dunham, D. 1950. The royal cemeteries of Kush. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Edwards, D.N. 2004. Nubian past: an archaeology of the Sudan. London & New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Heidorn, L.A. 1997. The horses of Kush. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 56: 105–14. Scholar
Hill, E. 2013. Archaeology and animal persons: toward a prehistory of human-animal relations. Environment and Society 4: 117–36. Scholar
Humphris, J. & Rehren, T.. 2014. Iron production and the kingdom of Kush: an introduction to UCL Qatar's research in Sudan, in Lohwasser, A. & Wolf, P. (ed.) Ein forscherleben zwischen den welten. Zum 80. Geburtstag von Steffen Wenig. Berlin: Sonderheft Mitteilungen der Sudanarchäologischen Gesellschaft zu Berlin.Google Scholar
Lenoble, P. 1994. Une monture pour mon royaume: sacrifices triomphaux de chevaux et de méhara d'El Kurru à Ballana. Archéologie du Nil Moyen 6: 107–30.Google Scholar
Littauer, M.A. & Crouwel, J.H.. 1985. Chariots and related equipment form the tomb of Tut'ankhamun. Oxford: Griffith Institute.Google Scholar
Macadam, M.F.L. 1955. The temples of Kawa. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Mallory-Greenough, L. 2005. The horse burials of Nubia. Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 32: 105–10.Google Scholar
Martin, G. 1991. The hidden tombs of Memphis. London: Thames & Hudson.Google Scholar
Morkot, R.G. 2000. The black pharaohs. London: Rubicon.Google Scholar
Morkot, R.G. 2013. From conquered to conqueror: the organization of Nubia in the New Kingdom and the Kushite administration of Egypt, in García, J.C.M. (ed.) Ancient Egyptian administration: 911–64. Leiden: Brill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
O'Day, S.J., Van Neer, W. & Ervynck, A. (ed.). 2004. Behaviour behind bones: the zooarchaeology of ritual, religion, status and identity. Oxford: Oxbow.Google Scholar
Olsen, S.L. 2006. Introduction, in Olsen, S.L., Grant, S., Choyke, A.M. & Bartosiewicz, L. (ed.) Horses and humans: the evolution of human-equine relationships (British Archaeological Reports International series 1560): 110. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.Google Scholar
Olsen, S.L. & Culbertson, C.. 2010. A gift from the desert: the art, history and culture of the Arabian horse. Lexington (KY): International Museum of the Horse.Google Scholar
Quibell, J.E. & Olver, A.. 1926. An ancient Egyptian horse. Annales du Service des Antiquités de l'Egypte 26: 172–76.Google Scholar
Raulwing, P. & Clutton-Brock, J.. 2009. The Buhen horse: fifty years after its discovery (1958–2008). Journal of Egyptian History 2 (1–2): 1106. Scholar
Rehren, T. 2001. Meroe, iron and Africa. Mitteilungen der Sudanarchaeologischen gesellschaft 12: 102109.Google Scholar
Reimer, P.J., Bard, E., Bayliss, A., Beck, J.W., Blackwell, P.G., Bronk Ramsey, C., Buck, C.E., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., Friedrich, M., Grootes, P.M., Guilderson, T.P., Haflidason, H., Hajdas, I., Hatté, C., Heaton, T.J., Hoffmann, D.L., Hogg, A.G., Hughen, K.A., Kaiser, K.F., Kromer, B., Manning, S.W., Niu, M., Reimer, R.W., Richards, D.A., Scott, E.M., Southon, J.R., Staff, R.A., Turney, C.S.M. & van der Plicht, J.. 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55: 1869–87. Scholar
Rilly, C. 2001. Une nouvelle interprétation du nom royal Piankhy. Bulletin de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale 101: 351–68.Google Scholar
Russell, N. 2012. Social zooarchaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Säve-Söderbergh, T. 1951. The Hyksos rule in Egypt. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 37: 5371. Scholar
Schrader, S. 2013. Bioarchaeology of the everyday: analysis of activity patterns and diet in the Nile Valley. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Purdue University.Google Scholar
Schrader, S. & Buzon, M.. 2017. Everyday life after collapse: a bioarchaeological examination of entheseal changes and accidental injury in post-colonial Nubia. Bioarchaeology International 1: 1934. Scholar
Shinnie, P.L. & Kense, F.J.. 1982. Meroitic iron working. Meroitica 6: 1728.Google Scholar
Silliman, S.W. 2009. Change and continuity, practice and memory: Native American persistence in colonial New England. American Antiquity 74: 211–30. Scholar
Smith, S.T. 2003. Wretched Kush: ethnic identities and boundaries in Egypt's Nubian empire. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Smith, S.T. 2008. Tombos and the transition from the New Kingdom to the Napatan Period in Upper Nubia, in Godlewski, W. & Latjar, A. (ed.) Between the cataracts: 95115. Warsaw: WUW.Google Scholar
Smith, S.T. 2013. Revenge of the Kushites: assimilation and resistance in Egypt's New Kingdom empire and Nubian ascendancy over Egypt, in Areshian, G. (ed.) Empires and complexity: 84107. Los Angeles (CA): Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA.Google Scholar
Smith, S.T. & Buzon, M.R.. 2014. Identity, commemoration, and remembrance in colonial encounters: burials at Tombos during the Egyptian New Kingdom Nubian empire and its aftermath, in Porter, B.W. & Boutin, A.T. (ed.) Remembering the dead in the ancient Near East: 185216. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.Google Scholar
Spalinger, A. 1981. Notes on the military in Egypt during the XXVth Dynasty. Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 11: 3758.Google Scholar
Spalinger, A. 2005. War in ancient Egypt. Malden (MA): Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Spencer, N. 2014. Creating and re-shaping Egypt in Kush: responses at Amara West. Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 6: 4261.Google Scholar
Török, L. 1997. The kingdom of Kush. Handbook of the Napatan-Meroitic civilization. Leiden: Brill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Török, L. 2002. The image of the ordered world in ancient Nubian art. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
Török, L. 2009. Between two worlds: the frontier region between ancient Nubia and Egypt, 3700 BC–AD 500 (Probleme der Ägyptologie 29). Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
Trigger, B. 1976. Nubia under the pharaohs. Boulder (CO): Westview.Google Scholar
Tylecote, R.F. 1982. Metal working at Meroe, Sudan. Meroitica 6: 2949.Google Scholar
Supplementary material: PDF

Schrader et al. supplementary material

Schrader et al. supplementary material 1

Download Schrader et al. supplementary material(PDF)
PDF 220 KB
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Symbolic equids and Kushite state formation: a horse burial at Tombos
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Symbolic equids and Kushite state formation: a horse burial at Tombos
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Symbolic equids and Kushite state formation: a horse burial at Tombos
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *