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Michele Buzon - 2017 Lu Ann Aday Award

Michele Buzon

Michele Buzon – 2017 Lu Ann Aday Award

Michele R. Buzon is a professor in the Department of Anthropology. She came to Purdue University in 2007 as an assistant professor of anthropology. She was promoted to associate professor in 2010 and to professor in 2017.

She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Anthropology from Loyola University Chicago. She earned her master's degree and PhD in anthropology, specializing in bioarchaeology, from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Prior to joining the Purdue faculty, she was an Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta (Canada), working in the Department of Anthropology and the Radiogenic Isotope Facility. She previously taught in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Calgary.

Her research interests are in bioarchaeology, with a focus on paleopathology, biological relatedness and strontium isotope evidence for residential mobility in the ancient Nile Valley. She also has served as a bioarchaeological consultant on projects in the United States and Peru.

Buzon's work has been published in the top publications for her discipline, including American Anthropologist, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Current Anthropology, Journal of Archaeological Science and International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. She serves as the Reviews Editor for the International Journal of Paleopathology. In 2014, she was named a Purdue University Faculty Scholar.

Life and Death by the Nile: Tales from the Tombs of Tombos


Beginning about 1500 B.C., the New Kingdom Egyptian Empire expanded into its southern neighbor, Nubia, in search of resources such as gold and cattle. Over the next few hundred years, interactions between the ancient Egyptians and Nubians would include violent encounters, trade and exchange, political relationships and the establishment of interethnic communities. One Egyptian colonial community established in Nubia — Tombos in northern Sudan — spans the period from Egyptian expansion through the empire's decline, allowing for rare perspective on this socio-political transition.

In her talk, Buzon will explore the processes of change and the consequences of contact for the people who once lived in Tombos. Evidence of disease stress, nutritional deficiencies, immigration from Egypt to Nubia and the biological relatedness between inhabitants will be presented. Osteobiographies of specific individuals from Tombos will be described to highlight how the rich archaeological record can be used to understand past societies.

Research Accomplishments

Professor Buzon is a leading researcher in bioarchaeology, making significant contributions using an interdisciplinary and contextual approach that incorporates several types of skeletal data with material remains from burials to reconstruct lives and deaths of people in the past.

Much of her research has focused on understanding the processes of change and consequences of contact between people who inhabited the ancient Nile River Valley of Egypt and Nubia during the New Kingdom Egyptian occupation of Nubia (approximately 1530-1070 B.C.), and through the later Nubian Napatan rule of Egypt (approximately 750-650 B.C.). Research highlights include:

  • Established strontium isotope variability in the ancient Nile Valley.
  • Determined temporal trends in immigration of Egyptian colonists into Nubia during the New Kingdom period using strontium isotope data.
  • Demonstrated biological and cultural interaction at Tombos using craniometrics and mortuary analyses from New Kingdom to Napatan periods.
  • Provided paleopathological evidence for biological resilience of ancient Nubians at Tombos — few signs of infectious disease, nutritional deficiencies, interpersonal violence and physical trauma.

Buzon and her interdisciplinary research teams use a combination of research methods to provide a window into disease stress and nutritional deficiencies. She explores biological connections between individuals and groups using cranial measurements and nonmetric traits. Through strontium isotope analysis, she demonstrates the presence of first-generation immigrants at ancient sites. Her work also integrates cultural and ethnic identity with biological markers via mortuary analyses of tomb types, burial rituals, artifacts and Egyptian writings.

She has examined groups within the study populations, including indigenous and immigrant, elite and non-elite, women and men, and adults and children. During her research on health and population dynamics, she has studied over 1,000 individuals from several ancient Nile Valley sites, curating more than 200 of them from the site of Tombos in her skeletal collection at Purdue.

Over the last 17 years, Buzon and Professor Stuart Tyson Smith, an Egyptologist and archaeologist, have used an interdisciplinary approach on her project at Tombos to understand how socio-political transitions affected different aspects of people's lives during these periods of change. Through biological and isotopic evidence, her work has established the interaction and collaboration of Nubians and immigrant Egyptians at Tombos to produce a healthy community during the New Kingdom Egyptian colonial period. The community continued to thrive and influence the postcolonial and subsequent Napatan population.

As a result of her expertise in bioarchaeological methods, she has been involved in collaborative research outside of the Nile Valley, including isotopic and paleopathological analyses of sacrifice and decapitation in ancient Peru, the Gold Rush era, prehistoric burials in California and Illinois, and the transition to agriculture in the American Southwest. She has published several articles on bioarchaeology that are widely read and cited.

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