View Full Version : 2,000 year old skeletons reveal migration to Rome during the imperial era

12-02-16, 19:26
You can find the articles here:


and here:

The analysis was done using isotopes; unfortunately no dna analysis has yet been done.

From 105 skeletons found in two cemeteries, and dating from the 1st through the 3rd centuries AD, 8 seem to have spent their formative years in places as distant as the "Alps, the Apennines, and North Africa".

I don't know if hot, dry climate necessarily means North Africa, as we've seen from the Near Eastern Roman J2b sample found in Britain, who may very well have come from Arabia or the southern Levant.

That there might be people from the Apennines in ancient Rome seems to me unremarkable. Rome was sucking in people from all the poorer areas of the Italian peninsula, in a pattern replicated in most societies then and now.

"The individuals were mostly children and men, and the authors suggest their burial in a necropolis indicates that they may have been poor or even slaves. They also found that their diet probably changed significantly when they moved to Rome, possibly adapting to the local cuisine, comprising mostly wheat and some legumes, meat and fish."

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-02-clues-human-migration-imperial-rome.html#jCp

In this regard, the authors claim that they factored in the fact that the water supply for Rome came from long distances, and that the grain predominantly came from Egypt. I certainly hope they did and that it was done properly, because that could confound all the results.

I just found the actual paper. I'll see if there's more clarity there.

Pax Augusta
12-02-16, 21:53
Roman Osteology Database - Two Cemeteries from Imperial Rome

https://figshare.com/articles/Roman_Osteology_Database_Two_Cemeteries_from_Imper ial_Rome/1468571

13-02-16, 20:52
Here is the actual paper. Killgrove et al

As is usually the case, the press reports oversimplified it.

There were 4 results which the author felt were statistically conclusive: 3 adult males (2 were 35-50, 1 was 50+) and 1 adolescent of unknown sex.

Two ( T15 and ET38 ) "have oxygen isotope ratios within range of Rome, but strontium isotope ratios that are significantly higher, suggesting a possible origin in a place with older geology, such as the Alps or one of the islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea."

One ( T24 ) "has low strontium and low oxygen isotope ratios compared to Rome, suggesting an origin somewhere with a cool, wet climate and basalt or limestone substrate, such as the Apennines".

One (T36) has high oxygen and low strontium isotope ratios, suggesting an origin in a region of limestone or basalt with a hotter, drier climate than Rome, such as North Africa.

There are four other samples with different values on these tests but the analysis shows that the results are not statistically significant. The best estimate is that two may have come from northern Italy and two again from a hotter, drier climate.

The authors undercut their conclusions a bit for the samples to which they attribute origin in a hotter, drier, climate because, as I suggested above, the results might be confounded by the fact that Rome imported so much of its grain from Egypt. As they put it, " For these individuals, however, a dietary explanation for the anomalous strontium isotope Individual ratios, while much less likely owing to the concomitant δ18O values, cannot be completely ruled out. As Rome imported significant amounts of grain from north Africa during the Empire, and as human strontium isotope ratios from Egypt and the Nile Valley have been shown to be lower than those in Rome (around 0.707 to 0.708) [131 (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0147585#pone.0147585.ref131)]."

I also don't know enough about these kinds of levels in places like Arabia and the southern Levant to know whether the proposed area of origin might extend to them.

I'm inclined to go with the author's conclusion at least for the one sample for which they have statistically relevant data given that the bread dole was for citizens, and these people, given the type of burial, may have been either slaves or the very poor.

Along those lines, the authors do compare the results from these burials with those from a mausoleum in the area, presumably for more prosperous families, where they find no outlier results. They also do a comparison with a Republican Era analysis which again shows no outliers in the earlier period.

There was a fun fact embedded in all of this:
"Imperial Rome was not typical, however, as it was importing roughly 115 million gallons of water per day for both irrigation and drinking water, according to the figures of Frontinus, commissioner of the aqueducts in the 1st century AD."

I find the figure amazing, and perhaps even as amazing that the man's name and his notations have survived.

Pax Augusta
14-02-16, 20:55
Here is the actual paper. Killgrove et al

As is usually the case, the press reports oversimplified it.

Basically they have found 1 sample of supposed North African origin on 189 individuals examined osteologically from the Imperial phases of Casal Bertone and Castellaccio Europarco, while the resulting strontium sample size is 105, with 26 individuals from Castellaccio Europarco, 22 from the Casal Bertone mausoleum, and 57 from the Casal Bertone necropolis.