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

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Archaeology


This research will focus on respiratory disease caused by poor air quality, a health problem that affects people today globally in both developed and developing countries. The 4th cataract region of Sudan provides a dataset of great potential for exploring how the health of a 'regional' population was affected by sociocultural and environmental factors across a long timeframe. Poor air quality compromises respiratory function today, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the 4th leading global cause of death. However, there has been surprisingly little work on archaeological human remains that explores this subject for the past.


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Description My research has developed a greater understanding of respiratory disease in Sudanese archaeological populations during different time periods. Results indicate a rise in the prevalence of upper respiratory tract disease from earlier, wetter environmental conditions to later, more arid conditions. It has identified the potential negative impact of arid environmental conditions, such as dust and sand in the air, on respiratory health throughout time in Sudan. It has also developed an understanding of the other complex factors that may have affected respiratory disease in Sudan. In particular, the results demonstrated a particularly high prevalence of respiratory disease in skeletons from urban contexts, where poor air quality, crowding, and infectious disease were all likely to have been factors in the development of respiratory conditions. As part of this research, a new method for recording the prevalence of lower respiratory tract disease in human skeletons has been developed. This method has been published as an open access article, and will hopefully provide a consistent method for researchers to record lower respiratory tract disease and improve comparability between future studies.
Exploitation Route This research provides a comparative data set for other studies of respiratory disease in archaeological populations. In particular, it provides a greater foundation for investigation into the potential variation in the prevalence of respiratory disease within different environments. This research has established methods that can be adopted by future researchers of respiratory disease, allowing the comparability of data between future studies. These methods have also been published as an open access article, making them easily available for future researchers. The data generated from this research can also be used in conjunction with other studies of Sudanese archaeological populations to greater understand the way of life, activities, occupations, and types of diseases of ancient Sudanese people. In the public sector, this study may be able to provide a useful historical context and educational tool for the problem of air pollution, its effect on health, and the consequent rise of respiratory disease in modern society.
Sectors Environment,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections