February 20, 2008

Gettin' My Geek On

This is what I've been working on nearly non-stop for the past week: a pre-circulated paper for the Critical Roman Archaeology Conference being held at Stanford March 1-2. I'm at that phase in academia where I've managed to convince large organizations to give me thousands of dollars to do research into a fairly obscure area of anthropology, and now I have to give something back. What I've managed to scare up are some ideas that date back a decade in sociology but don't seem to have been applied well in archaeology, and definitely haven't been tackled in ancient Rome. In a nutshell, tens of thousands of immigrants came to Rome every year during the Imperial period (1st-3rd century AD), but we have basically no record of them in textual evidence. How do we find them? Well, we could keep going with circumstantial evidence from tombstones, or we could start testing bones to see if we can find individuals with isotopic signatures different from Rome. More than that, though, I'm interested in how migrants experienced Rome. Again, without texts, we have to rely on the bones: Did the migrants maintain their traditional foodways or methods of farming/manufacturing? Did immigrants live in heterogeneous communities of foreigners away from the "real" Romans, did they integrate fluidly, did they live in homogeneous ethnic areas? I do believe that these kinds of questions (and more!) can be answered, and I think that Rome is a fantastic place to start a bioarchaeological approach to the concept of transnational migration (and migrants' ethnicity, identity, and agency), seeing as how it was the largest preindustrial center in Europe until about 17th century London. Anyway. Read my paper to see how big a geek I am. Or just take my word for it.

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